MIAMI >> Manti Te’o looked like he could use a pair of sunglasses today as the early clouds gave way and Sun Life Stadium began to live up to its name at media day for the Discover BCS National Championship.
Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker from Laie and Punahou, was the main attraction as reporters and photographers descended on the site of Monday’s climax to the college football season, matching the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) and defending champion and No. 2-rated Alabama (12-1).
Te’o patiently answered questions on a variety of subjects. When it was over, he kissed the championship trophy on the way out of the stadium and to the team bus.
He hopes to be hoisting it Monday night.
Te’o was asked if he envisioned being in this situation when he signed with Notre Dame four years ago, when he chose the Fighting Irish over USC and other western schools.
Notre Dame was coming off a 7-6 season, finishing with a Hawaii Bowl victory over Hawaii. The previous year it was 3-9.
"Never," he said. "Never."
Te’o said Notre Dame managed to go undefeated and got to the championship game because of togetherness.
"In order to make it this far you can’t be a team of individuals," he said. "You have to be a team that plays as one unit and that trusts in each other and have kids on the team that play for each other."
Notre Dame receiver Robby Toma, also a Punahou graduate from Laie, put his broadcasting major lessons to the test on media day, interviewing teammates. He got junior defensive lineman Kona Schwenke of Hauula and Kahuku High to crack a smile.
These are college football two most storied programs.
In 1973, Notre Dame beat Alabama 24-23 for the national championship. Each school has won at least 10 national championships; some are disputed. The Crimson Tide were clear-cut champions after winning two of the last three BCS title games. Notre Dame’s last national championship came in 1988.
"I think that having those two traditions come together in a game like this certainly creates a lot of national interest, which is probably really good for college football," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Two days after we won the game last year we had a team meeting and the first thing I said to this team was, you guys are not the national champions. Some of you played on the national championship team, but the challenges that this team has are all in front of you. … You’re going to be the target. Everybody is going to bring their "A" game to beat you because of what you’ve accomplished."
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spent part of his day deflecting questions about leaving for the NFL.
"All that stuff is secondary to this football game," he said. This is the biggest game that I’ve ever been involved in so my focus is 100 percent on this football game. It’s flattering if there is interest, which I don’t know that there is.
"It’s been a long journey to get here," Kelly said. "But more importantly we’re here to win a football game."