Editor's Note: Andrew Mason is a contributor to DenverBroncos.com. His views, opinions and analysis represent those of the individual author, not those of the Denver Broncos organization.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As Manti Te'o strode up the stairs to begin his press conference, he knew this would be different than talking with Katie Couric or Jeremy Schaap. Instead of one interviewer, there were hundreds with questions, only a few of which would actually get to ask them over the din. Instead of just a camera or two, there were dozens.
"That's a lot of cameras," he said, staring into a sea of inquisitors.
And the former Notre Dame linebacker knew that most of the questions weren't going to be about football, no matter how badly he wanted to bury the non-existent-Internet-girlfriend "catfishing" story that leapt from the sports world to daytime talk shows and entertainment magazines last month.
Te'o tried his best to steer the conversation. In his first answer, he said, "I've said all I need to say about that." Later, he added, "I’ve answered everything I could. For me, I’d really like to talk about football."
It was clear where he wanted the focus to be. But deep down, Te'o seemed to know better, that his request would fall on deaf ears. But he possessed the patience and maturity to understand that no matter what he wanted the topic to be, "catfishing" would, for the moment and the foreseeable future, be the first, second, third, fourth and fifth topic of discussion by the media.
Never before at the combine had a horde this large gathered. Never had a player been asked, "Are you dating anybody in real life?" or whether he'd consider filing a lawsuit against an impostor posing as a girlfriend. Most of that brouhaha had nothing to do with football. But sustaining the storyline about the non-existent girlfriend did, because it cut to the issue of trust -- a question he knows teams will ask.
"They've wanted to hear from me what the truth was," said Te'o, who said he has met with Green Bay and Houston and already and plans to meet with 18 more teams. "They want to be able to trust their player. You don't want to invest in somebody you can't trust. With everybody here, they're just trying to get to know you, get to know you as a person and as a football player. I understand where they're coming from."
As frustrated as Te'o might have been below the surface, his facade never cracked. He never raised his voice Saturday, displaying the kind of unflappable cool a team wants in its middle linebacker. And if he applies the lessons he says he's learned from the incident, he'll be a savvier pro, as well.
"I've learned just to be honest in anything and everything you do, from the big things to the small things," he said. "Secondly, to keep your circle very small and to understand who's really in your corner and who's not.
"Going off of the season my team and I had, there's a lot of people in our corner. Then when Jan. 16 (the day the story broke) happened, there's a lot of people in the other corner. I just learned to appreciate the people that I have that are with me and to just make sure you always try to turn a negative thing into a positive."
There's one final step in Teo's process that no likely first-rounder has ever endured: walking into the locker room of the team that drafts him and meeting his new teammates. No matter where he goes, some of his new teammates will inevitably will be of the needling bent, ready to jab. It's the nature of any workplace, but especially a locker room, where jokes and ribbing fly like socks into the laundry bins.
Stopping that before it starts won't be left to a coach, an executive or an owner -- but a team leader, someone with enough locker-room credibility to have his word be followed without question. Not every team has a player with that sort of presence, but if Te'o's team does, that man will speak, say that the past is something to be left behind, and in the locker room, where it matters most for Teo's career, the "catfish" story will be a non-issue.
"Whatever team I go to, I'm just going to be me. I'm going to work hard, I'm going to do my best to help the team win," Te'o said. "And whatever happens, happens."
Given his track record of on-field success, that should be more than enough for him to eventually ensure that the first, last and only topic of his press conferences is football. Us Magazine and Katie Couric won't care about him anymore. Sports Illustrated and Bob Costas will.