The No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft is one of the most uniquely coveted positions in all of sports. The lucky draftee is instantly crowned a franchise's "savior," takes home gobs of guaranteed money, realizes dreams of endorsement deals and, perhaps, Super Bowl rings. But for those players who don't quite add up to a Peyton Manning or Michael Vick, becoming the No. 255th pick is still a pretty decent consolation prize. Or, as the last pick in the draft is known, (since 1976, when Pete Rozelle gave his stamp of approval) ... Mr. Irrelevant.
The whole thing is the brainchild of Paul Salata, 84, a former USC wide receiver. And it's become a lot more than fodder for snarky sports reporters or sarcastic fans. Salata drew upon his experience as a professional football player, including stints with the 49ers and Baltimore Colts in the 1950s, for inspiration, and turned the last pick into a week-long post-draft celebration.
"Parts of the team got way more attention than the rest of the team, and I thought that everyone should be considered equal. I wanted to do something that gave recognition to the underdog, the guy [who] tries just as hard or harder, but never is recognized for it," Salata said. "Irrelevant Week is a celebration of the underdog."
As soon as that last draft pick is announced, Salata, and his daughter Melanie, a former Mr. Irrelevant "cheerleader" who is now Irrelevant Week's CEO, swing into action. Think "Iron Man" with fewer gadgets. The duo immediately swoops the draftee off the podium to begin planning a parody-filled, week-long celebration fit for, well, a pauper.
Mr. Irrelevant and his family are whisked away to Newport Beach, Calif. for a bevy of "irrelevant" events, such as dragging the field at an Angels' game (versus throwing out the first pitch) or steering a ship at a regatta with no markers (versus real course with actual directions). Since its inception, Irrelevant Week has culminated with a banquet and the awarding of the "Lowsman" Trophy (a takeoff on the legendary Heisman Trophy), complete with a statue of a football player ... fumbling. There's also a Mr. Irrelevant parade, a trip to Disneyland, and even Mr. Irrelevant groupies.
Yes, groupies. They're assigned to each event, adding to both the mockery and fun of the week. And, contrary to what you might expect during Irrelevant Week, these groupies are normal, up-standing college students, not buck-toothed hecklers. "The honoree seems to enjoy the week better if he has groupies surrounding him," explained Melanie Salata.
The Houston Texans had the last pick of the 2011 draft, No.254 overall, and chose Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu.
Ryan Succop, 2009's Mr. Irrelevant -- who has since gone on to become the starting kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs -- remembers his post-draft experience fondly. "It was awesome," recalled Succop. "It's fun because you get to take your family out there. I had my girlfriend and a couple of buddies, and you get to do a lot that you ordinarily wouldn't get to do. Sure, they're poking fun at you a bit, but they're also honoring you."
And for the record, Succop does not recall any groupies.
With the competitive intensity of the NFL draft, you might think Irrelevant Week could be hampered by a bitter player not willing to embrace the "honor" of being the last man standing.
"Since the draft has been reduced to seven rounds, the players deemed Mr. Irrelevant have come from a crop [of athletes who] have received many more honors/records in their playing careers, so they often say that they thought that they would have been selected sooner in the draft, " Melanie said. But, she adds, once they see what's awaiting them in Newport Beach, they never leave disappointed. "How could you not like a week that is entirely focused on you, with several hundred people cheering you on and hoping that you make it in the NFL?"
Cam Newton, eat your heart out.