With the Manti Te’o catfish carnival act finally winding down — yeah, right — now would be a good time to admit we all have been fooled by a fish tale once or twice.
At its most basic, what tripped Te’o is the same strange longing for a relationship that takes sports fans for a ride every season. We love our teams and think they love us. We spend hours following their every move, whether through newspapers, on TV or through the social media of cellphones and websites.
And when they are sick — as in terrible — we wait decades by their bedside while they recover. Hey, it’s what friends do, even when we are the ones left hurting. The Blue Jackets bleed us to death. The Cleveland Browns use us. The Crew teases us with love letters promising playoffs. Even Ohio State rewards our affection with what could be an average ticket price of around $90 (including premium games) for 2013.
And we buy it. Hook. Line. Sinker. The prank is on us.
In return, our teams offer the occasional two-for-one ticket deal that we misread as a box of chocolates showing how much they care.
Not so different from Te’o after all, eh? Ultimately, we become like the former Notre Dame linebacker turned talk-show punch line, duped by the make-believe we thought was real. How naive and gullible we are.
Even when our teams seem to return our affection by actually finishing above .500, it is all a ruse.
The Cincinnati Reds appeared headed to the National League championship series last season, leading San Francisco two games to none. We bought in. We believed. We allowed our hearts to soften.
Then they dumped us. Fooled again.
The Cincinnati Bengals won seven of eight to finish the regular season, then their offense disappeared in a first-round playoff game against Houston. We got punked.
The Cleveland Indians? We know better than to get sucked in by their initial romantic advances — the Tribe was within a few games of first place at the All-Star break each of the past two seasons. But we pursue the relationship anyway. And guess what? All a fake.
To be fair, Ohio teams are not alone in penning the perpetual Dear John letter. Only fans from one NFL team — or any sports league — will see their true love return that adoration, culminating in that ultimate expression of caring known as the victory parade.
For the rest of us, “Wait until next year” becomes the relational sports equivalent of “Sure, she left me, but I know she’ll be back.”
True, Te’o was taken in by a person or two, not fooled by an entire franchise. But haven’t we all been?
Te’o never met his girlfriend. Most of us never have met Eli Manning, Kobe Bryant or the other celebrity athletes we “date” from afar. Initially, we trust them. Lance Armstrong is who he claims to be. Who we want him to be. Then, when the hoax comes to light, when athletes and coaches turn out to be frauds, we go through stages of grief that include denial, anger and acceptance.
LeBron James will never leave Cleveland.
How dare that liar leave Cleveland.
Please come back to C-Town, buddy.
Certainly, not all love stories end in deception. Alabama football fans and the Crimson Tide are on their third honeymoon in four years. But the risk for the rest of us — even you, New York Yankees fan — is that the person or program on the other end of the line could turn out to be a figment of the imagination.
Then, like Te’o, we scratch our heads. Unlike him, we go back for more. We are fans. It’s what friends do.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.