- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- Jack Swarbrick was the last man taking questions in the bowels of Sun Life Stadium early Tuesday morning, minutes after the locker room doors closed behind him, signaling the official end of Notre Dame's 125th season of football here on the final day of the sport's season.
Time and place are a giveaway to what was by any measure a remarkably successful season. The last man left behind by reporters in the locker room -- the man the athletic director kept heaping praise upon -- was not.
Manti Te'o's last game of his Notre Dame career was, in some measures, his worst. Like most of his teammates, he missed tackles. He came up just short on a second-quarter pass that looked destined to be his eighth interception of the season. The leader of what had been the nation's top scoring defense endured a 42-point showing from Alabama, which piled up 529 yards of total offense.
In the weeks leading up to Mondays' Discover BCS National Championship, Te'o and Notre Dame had seemed so close to punctuating a renaissance campaign. In the aftermath of a 28-point defeat to the defending champion Crimson Tide, they had never looked so far, at least not during Te'o's senior season.
"For Notre Dame to get back here, we had to have a Manti Te'o," Swarbrick said. "We couldn't do it without him in the sense that to really restore the program, you needed someone who really represented the values of the program and the university, and he was the embodiment of that. So decades from now we're going to be thankful to Manti for what he did to turn this thing around."
Soon the postgame images of a bewildered Te'o and Notre Dame will fade, and the big-picture will re-tell his story again and again.
How much of it gets fabricated and ends up becoming legend will only become evident over time, but for now the skeleton is nationally known: The star Mormon recruit from Hawaii committing to a Catholic school in South Bend, Ind., overcoming the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend to earn the most Heisman Trophy votes of any purely defensive player in college football history, lifting the sport's most iconic program back to the championship picture once again.
"I don't really know," Te'o said when asked of his legacy. "I hope that the legacy we left was a dream season, but I don't know. The experiences that we've had here will only make us stronger and only make this team better."
On a night of perplexing images, Te'o put on a fitting frame.