No matter what or whom you believe, the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax that unraveled Wednesday ranks among college football’s most bizarre stories ever. And for those of us who covered Virginia Tech’s 1995 Sugar Bowl against Texas, it immediately conjured memories of Ron McKelvey.
Or Ron Weaver.
Texas’ media guide listed McKelvey as a 23-year-old junior defensive back. He played in the Longhorns’ nickel packages and on special teams.
Twenty-three is a touch old for a college junior, but the media guide said that after his senior year at North Salinas (Calif.) High School, McKelvey suffered a severe hand injury while attempting to break up an assault. Fingers were nearly severed, sidelining him for two years.
Or maybe not.
On Saturday Dec. 30, the morning before the Sugar Bowl, the Salinas Californian newspaper reported that McKelvey was 30-year-old Ron Weaver, who had played two seasons each for Monterey Peninsula College and Sacramento State. People in town, the newspaper said, recognized the media guide picture of Weaver/McKelvey.
Turns out Weaver, after using all his NCAA eligibility at Sacramento State, and after failed NFL and Canadian Football League tryouts, worked in a Los Angeles-area liquor store. But he still yearned to play football.
So Weaver took the name of Joel Ron McKelvey, a dude he had met at the liquor store and local gym. He enrolled at Pierce College, where he played well enough to draw interest from Texas.
“You can't understand what the experience is like,” Weaver told Sports Illustrated after the scam was exposed. “Playing in front of 80,000 people. To be recruited. To have someone wash your stuff and put it back in your locker ...”
Safe to say, on Sugar Bowl eve, Texas officials were not amused to learn of McKelvey’s true identity or plans to write a book – it never materialized – on his experience.
“We had no, repeat no, prior knowledge (of) any of this,” coach John Mackovic said during a news conference. ``We don't require everyone to prove who he is. We accept the validity of other institutions.”
News conferences the day before a bowl are normally dreadful. Every possible question has been asked, and all parties involved would rather be elsewhere. This one was different.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was blissfully unaware of the developments when asked about Texas’ 30-year-old nickel back.
“Texas has a 30-year-old player?” he said. “As long as he's eligible, I think it's great. There's no age limit on getting a college education and playing a little football.”
The Longhorns immediately declared Weaver/McKelvey ineligible, and the NCAA later absolved them of any wrongdoing. Weaver pleaded guilty to misusing a Social Security number but dodged jail time.
In a statement released the evening before the Sugar Bowl, Texas said: “McKelvey, who transferred to Texas from Los Angeles Pierce Junior College this fall, apparently deceived the university as to his identity. After several conversations with university officials, McKelvey and his belongings were found missing from his room as further information was uncovered. He has been declared ineligible and is no longer a member of the team.”
“I am very disappointed that something like this could happen,” Mackovic said in a statement. “It in no way reflects the quality of our program. Fraud and deceit are despicable on a personal basis, but when they affect so many other people, it's disgusting.”
Bless his heart, then-Daily Press sports columnist Skip Miller volunteered to chronicle the Weaver/McKelvey story so some of us other knotheads could keep dinner reservations at New Orleans’ Palace Café. While Skip wrote, we sampled gumbo, white chocolate bread pudding and perhaps an adult beverage or two.
The Longhorns scored the game’s first 10 points the following night, but the Hokies dominated the remainder of the evening to win 28-10.
“I'm not going to blame the loss on that,” guard Dan Neil told the Associated Press’ Chip Brown a year later. “But people kind of lost focus because no one knew how to react. The result of it all left a lot of heads spinning. …
“Once it sunk in that we were playing in our first major bowl game in several years and the Weaver ordeal had become the focus, I was irritated.”
Here’s guessing a few folks at Notre Dame are irritated as well. The Te’o story has miles to go before it sleeps.
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