(CBS News) The feel-good story of the college football season has come to a bitter end.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said he found inspiration in the death of his girlfriend, on the same day he said he lost his grandmother.
Last night, the story of Te'o's girlfriend was exposed as a hoax.
Te'o's inspirational story was featured all over sports media, from ESPN to Sports Illustrated. CBS News' Chip Reid reported on the story as well for "CBS This Morning," on the day of the BCS Championship game. But it turns out everyone was duped by what turned out to be a fictitious story, born online.
In interviews last fall Te'o had said a girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died after a battle with leukemia on the same day that his grandmother died.
Te'o said in one interview, "The last thing she said to me was, 'I love you'."
On Sept. 15 -- just days after his grandmother's death, and Kekua's alleged death -- he dominated the field leading Notre Dame in an upset against rival Michigan. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly awarded the game ball to the linebacker with Te'o's girlfriend in mind.
In another interview, Te'o said, "I couldn't do it without the support of my family and my girlfriend's family."
But yesterday, the sports blog Deadspin discovered that Kekua never actually existed.
Jack Dickey, a writer for Deadspin, told CBS News, "Well, OK, 22-year-old Stanford grad gets in a car accident, contracts leukemia and then dies. That's a big tragedy that's going to be written up somewhere. It wasn't. There was no death notice, no obituary, no announcement of her funeral."
Dickey is one of the reporters who broke the story after receiving an anonymous tip. He said, "This was a person who should have had a high profile, but had no profile aside from stuff on social media and stuff connected with Manti Te'o."
In a hasty press conference on Wednesday, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said his star linebacker was the target of deception. Swarbrick said, "This was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax. Manti was the victim of that hoax. Manti is the victim of that hoax."
Earlier, Te'o had released this statement that said, "...Over several months I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online...To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
Te'o discussed the apparent hoax with school officials on Dec. 26, 12 days before Notre Dame lost the national championship game to Alabama, a game in which Te'o's poor play was scrutinized.
Deadspin traced Kekua's Twitter photo to a woman on Facebook who was surprised to learn her image had been hijacked.
Dickey said, "So we talked to this woman and she said, 'All of these photos are of me. I am not dead. I have not had leukemia. I didn't go to Stanford and I don't really know who Manti Te'o is.' And then we said, 'Oh wow'."
The surreal chain of events have some speculating that Te'o may have been in on the hoax, but as far as Notre Dame is concerned they are sticking by their man. Swarbrick said, "That the single most trusting human being I've met, will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life. That's an incredible tragedy."
There is no word yet on when Te'o is expected to address the media beyond his statement from last night. Questions still remain as to how Te'o could not have known. Deadspin says they've identified a man they believe to be a friend or distant family member of Te'o who is behind the hoax. Deadspin, which also broke the Brett Favre scandal a few years ago, says this is the biggest story they have ever had. The site received more than two million hits in eight hours.
CBS News reached out to Notre Dame repeatedly, asking for interviews with the coaches or Te'o himself prior to the BCS game and the airing of our game day report, and they never returned our calls.
Reid said on "CTM" he also interviewed people in Hawaii for the story while he was covering President Obama. "I went to (Te'o's hometown), a small town in northern Oahu. I talked to numerous neighbors. And all of them were very familiar with the story of Lennay Kekua, felt horrible about it. There was not a hint or disbelief or doubt about it from anyone."
Notre Dame is going to have to address this situation to a greater degree, Reid said. "It is pretty stunning that they knew on December 26th, and didn't make it clear to the world then," he added. "A lot of people are speculating, perhaps that's why Manti Te'o did not play so well in that bowl championship game, but I think they didn't want him to have to deal with it before the game."
For Chip Reid's full report, watch the video in the player above.