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Plei Like A Champion

Sep 26, 2012, 2:58 PM EDT


Outside Notre Dame Stadium, fans covered the Lou Holtz statue with leis after the game.

Note: This document was originally produced and distributed on Sept. 26, 2012. In January 2013, Manti Te’o told ESPN he had been the victim of a hoax regarding the existence of Lennay Kekua.

The flower lei is a symbol of affection, presented to someone in expression of love, reverence, respect, congratulations, or welcome. This past week, Notre Dame students, faculty, administration, and fans worked together to show their respect and support to Manti Te’o by wearing leis to the football game against Michigan.

The idea began simultaneously in two different places. Tyler Moorehead, a senior at Notre Dame and the Vice President of Social Media Public Relations for the Leprechaun Legion, said, “The idea was actually thrown out by Rosemary Kelly and Brian Metz, our football leaders for the Legion, immediately after the MSU win. We were really looking for a way to show our appreciation for Manti, and [wearing leis] seemed like a cool way for everybody to take part. Then early on in the week, while we were still looking for a donor to sponsor a giveaway, the idea blossomed on social media from the group The New ND Nation (@TNNDN) as well, who was huge for helping to get the message out there.”

Between the work and publicity by Leprechaun Legion and TNNDN, several thousands of leis were donated to be distributed to the game’s attendants. United Beverage Company of South Bend donated 7,500 leis to the Leprechaun Legion. Budwesier and WSBT donated 10,000 leis, Brothers Bar & Grill donated 1,000, and TNNDN donated 500.

The idea spread quickly and brought more and more supporters into the movement, especially coming from the student bodies at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College. Moorehead recalls, “The students really, really got behind the idea, and their reaction when first hearing was so overwhelmingly positive. When people talk about the Notre Dame family, it’s because of times like this. Everyone just jumped at the opportunity to show support for a fellow student at a time when it was needed.”

The movement was not restricted only to the South Bend area. TNNDN received pictures of fans sporting their leis from Japan, Germany, Singapore, Jamaica, and all over the country (including an entire wedding party wearing them and holding up a #5 jersey).

The Leprechaun Legion handed out their leis before the pep rally. After Dick Vitale spoke, head coach Brian Kelly took the stage and said, “I also want to thank all of our fans, and in particular our students, for the support they’ve shown for one of our players during a very difficult time, and I want to thank everybody that’s here supporting Manti Te’o and his family. Thank you so much.”

The crowd then raised up their hands, extending five fingers (“Five for #5”) and began chanting Te’o’s name. Coach Kelly handed over the microphone, and Te’o gave a moving speech (beginning at 2:15 in the video below) to a silent crowd.

Bryce Burton, the varsity Gold Squad Leprechaun, stated about Te’o’s speech, “Manti’s speech was especially great because it displayed the mutual love and respect between Manti and Notre Dame. He did not have to say much because everyone understood the gravity of the situation.”

During the game, Te’o had eight tackles, intercepted two passes, and also forced two more interceptions. He was subsequently named the Bednarik Player of the Week. After each play made by Te’o, the students and many other fans, held up the five fingers just like at the pep rally, and at the conclusion of the game, the entire student section waved their leis around.

“The student section waving them up in the air when Manti walked over after the game was a great gesture. Even through this extremely difficult time, Manti has been able to play exceptional football and remains the leader of the team,” noted Burton.

Often times, movements like this come and go before they can even be carried out. To have been a part of one that survived is a phenomenal thing. Nowhere but Notre Dame would we have seen something so extraordinary, because nowhere but Notre Dame sees a player or a person so extraordinary as Manti Te’o.

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