She was in a car accident at one point, and had leukemia, and then died in September.
Te'o played through it, and didn't even attend his girlfriend's funeral. He led Notre Dame to an upset victory over Michigan State a few days later.
Everyone jumped all over the story, and gave Te'o a ton of credit for playing through adversity, and playing through the pain of his girlfriend's death.
The story was one of the factors that contributed to Te'o's Heisman campaign, and was consistently mentioned as a huge storyline and the motivation behind Te'o's incredible season.
The night after her funeral in California, Te'o had another monster game against Michigan.
Te'o, after the game:
According to a rather lengthy Deadspin report, the whole story was a hoax. The girlfriend, the car accident, the cancer the death, EVERYTHING was fabricated.
From the Deadspin report:
Lennay Kekua's last words to Manti Te'o were not "I love you."
As of now, it's unclear whether or not Manti Te'o was in on the deception from the start.
It may have started as a prank, possibly by someone named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a cousin of former NFL QB Marques Tuiasosopo.
Either way, it's pretty obvious that Te'o eventually learned the truth, and continued to lie to the media about it.
Whether Te'o was duped or not, it's clear that the stories about him meeting her after the Notre Dame-Stanford game in 2009 were patently false.
The pictures that were released of her are not her, and are in fact of a California woman who has never had Leukemia, and is very much alive.
Even if Te'o got fooled by someone, it's clear that he must have known the jig was up at some point, and continued to deceive the media, blatantly lying about the situation.
Both Te'o and Tuiasosopo declined comment.
After the Deadspin report was released, Notre Dame released a statement about the situation:
The story started developing when someone sent in a tip to Deadspin to check up on his girlfriend. As they researched, they immediately found many discrepancies with the stories, and did exhaustive research over several months to try to get to the bottom of it.
This is a pretty insane revelation, and you have to wonder how much of this was a case of Te'o being fooled, and how much of it was him intentionally deceiving fans and media.
Realistically, would the best player on an insanely popular Notre Dame football team have an online-only relationship?
There were a lot of question marks around Manti Te'o before this story. He was absolutely exposed in the BCS Championship game. His dad also appears to be a nut job. He recently decline an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. Personally, I believe it's because he's concerned that he'll once again get exposed.
And now, this.
UPDATE: Te'o has released a statement about this situation. Via ESPN:
To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.
I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.
In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.
Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.