Friday, April 18, 2008

By Brett Grassmuck
Staff Writer

Maybe he is a long shot to make an NFL roster, and maybe he’s not, but for one week in June the so-called Mr. Irrelevant, the final selection of the NFL Draft, is anything but.

As the 2008 NFL Draft winds to a close and Rams head coach Scott Linehan calls in the final pick, the NFL will hand the card to former player Paul Salata, the inventor of the term ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ who will walk to the podium to announce the selection.

“I’ll limp to the podium,” Salata quipped about his age, but the selection of Mr. Irrelevant is not a joke. On the surface, it seems like a fitting name for the final selection of the NFL Draft, who is almost as big of a long shot to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent, but that’s certainly not the reason for the nickname.

The week prior to NFL rookie orientation has been dubbed “Irrelevant Week” where the newly crowned Mr. irrelevant heads to Newport Beach, Calif., for a week-long celebration of his selection.

“Actually it’s a celebration of the underdog,” said Melanie Fitch, Salata’s daughter and CEO of Irrelevant Week. “We’re trying to say it’s irrelevant that he’s drafted last, because he’s as worthy as the first choice. It’s irrelevant that he’s last. It’s kind of a play on words. It’s not mean spirited at all.”

2008 marks the first time the Rams have had the pick since the move to St. Louis in 1995. But the Rams have made the final draft selection four times since 1936, even though the term ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ was just that, a term, until Salata energized it 1976.

“It came from when the socialists up at the University of California were not working and parading every day,” Salata said. “They would call what we were doing irrelevant.”

The Rams first Mr. Irrelevant came in 1937 while the franchise was located in Cleveland. The team selected Solon Holt, a guard out of Texas Christian, with the 10th selection of the 10th round. The team also landed the final pick in their first draft as the Los Angeles Rams in 1946. John West (B, Oklahoma) was selected with the fifth pick in the 32nd round.

The Rams did not have the pick in 1980, but when Tyrone McGriff, who went to the Steelers, decided to play in the Canadian Football League, the selection defaulted to the Rams’ Kevin Scanlon (QB, Arkansas), the 28th pick in the 12th round.

The Rams reigning Mr. Irrelevant is wide receiver Jeff Bethard, selected with the 28th pick in the 12th round in 1988 out of Southern Oregon, who didn’t make the final cut that season.
It’s up to Linehan and the rest of the coaches and front office personnel who the Rams next Mr. Irrelevant will be, but no matter who it is, he will be treated like royalty in Newport Beach.

As soon as he’s selected, Fitch has a direct line to New York where she informs the pick that he is Mr. Irrelevant and that he’ll be attending a week long celebration in his honor.

“I keep in touch with them right from the time that it is announced,” Fitch said. “We figure out what they like and what they want to see when they’re out here. But they’re still a little gun shy, like ‘you’re really going to be nice to me?’ Then when they go, we really are. The whole time we keep treating them like a king. It’s a celebration of the underdog.”

The festivities begin with a private barbeque where Mr. Irrelevant is introduced to the Irrelevant Week staff and informed of exactly what his duties will be.

The following day, he is introduced to the media and several hundred fans with and arrival that would make a professional wrestler jealous, designed to fit his background and personality.

“According to who he is or where he’s coming from, I’ll design the arrival,” Fitch said. “Ronnie McAda (1997) was from Army, so he came in on an Army rocket launcher. Tevita Ofahengaue (2001) is from Tonga, so we had these canoe paddlers bring him in on this dais with dancing girls.”

Mr. Irrelevant is also given a plethora of gifts from the community including a gold watch from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and a Rolex from a local jeweler, because NFL superstars are often seen sporting nice watches.

For the five days following the arrival press conference, Mr. Irrelevant is run through a gauntlet of events including an America’s Cup style sailing regatta, and depending on his marital status, a Miss Irrelevant selection process, all in celebration of the underdog.

There is also a night of good-natured ribbing as the selection is presented the Lowsman Trophy, featuring a player fumbling the ball off his knee as opposed to the victorious pose of the Heisman Trophy, at a roast-style banquet on Wednesday of Irrelevant Week.

“(The roasters are) all sports celebrities from a variety of sports,” Fitch said. “It’s in fun. They will usually close by saying ‘good luck and we hope you make it.’ It’s all upbeat.”

Between the events, Mr. Irrelevant has time to explore southern California as well as complete his offseason workouts on NFL-level equipment with former Rams offensive lineman Doug Smith.

“(The week) gets manipulated on what he wants to do,” Fitch said. “One year, the guy really like Ferraris, so he drove around the whole week in a convertible Ferrari. He never had a car, so we had a Ferrari for him all week. He didn’t get to take it home, though.”

At the end of the week, the player ships off to his next assignment, NFL rookie orientation, where most of the players that have gone through Irrelevant Week have one thing on the agenda.

“Usually what they do is try and sleep as much as they can,” Fitch said. “(The week is a) community opening its arms to try and celebrate the underdog and make him feel as good as he can. It’s his fifteen minutes of fame, his seven days of fame, and then he goes back and he’s mortal again.”