(Reuters) - The 254th selection in this year’s National Football League draft will be quickly forgotten by all except his family and friends, but the 255th pick will become an instant celebrity.
The last selection, which this year belongs to the New York Giants, forever will be known as “Mr. Irrelevant,” which is a touch ironic considering he will be feted at a celebration held in his honor and forever the answer to a sports trivia question.
An entire Irrelevant Week is held annually each summer in the southern California beachside community of Newport Beach, though this year’s celebration is in doubt due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr. Irrelevant, the brainchild of former NFL player Paul Salata, began in 1976 and is now run by his daughter Melanie Fitch.
“Dad said we should celebrate the last guy just like the first guy. He always thought it was an honor to be drafted at all,” Fitch told Reuters in a phone interview.
“Dad got together with some people in Newport Beach where we lived and said we’re going to bring that last guy out here.
“Unfortunately, my dad’s not a marketing guy so he coined the turn Mr. Irrelevant thinking that was a good idea. Now 45 years later we’re still having to explain to people that being irrelevant is a good thing,” Fitch said.
Salata is now 93 and still in good health, though he is not involved in the day-to-day running of Mr. Irrelevant, a non-profit charity event run by volunteers to raise money for good causes.
Fitch said no final NFL draft selection had ever declined an invitation to attend Irrelevant Week, and with good reason.
“Right from the get-go we ask him what he wants to do,” she said. “Sometimes they say ‘I’m a golfer,’ or ‘I’ve never seen the ocean I want to learn how to surf.’”
“We’ve had Mr. Irrelevant (David Vobore in 2008) who wanted to go to the Playboy mansion and meet the playboy bunnies, so we set up for him to go to dinner with Hugh Hefner and the bunnies who lived in the house,” Fitch recalled.
“We almost lost him for the rest of the week,” she said.
Meeting actors ranging from Will Ferrell to Halle Berry is a common request, while last year’s Mr. Irrelevant, Caleb Wilson, asked to meet basketball legend Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January, could not have been more accommodating.
“He was very nice to Caleb,” Fitch said. “Kobe knew that this was Mr Irrelevant and we were trying to honor him because he was the last guy drafted.”
The whole tone of Irrelevant week is fun. Ryan Hoag, the 2003 recipient, shares a last name with a local Newport Beach hospital, so was brought to the arrival party by ambulance.
“That was part of the schtick,” Hoag said in a telephone interview.
“They had models dressed as nurses with fake ID put me on a gurney and that’s how I arrived,” he said.
“They knew I was single so they made a Miss Irrelevant competition happen. I think my friends reaped the benefits more than I did that evening. My mom was next to me on the dance floor, so I had to be appropriate.”
Hoag said the fun of Irrelevant Week was a far cry from the jangling tension of draft night.
“Once you get to the bottom of the seventh round, not only did I feel bad and dejected but I felt bad for the people who had spent eight hours sitting with me holding their breath any time the phone rang,” said Hoag.
He subsequently made the roster of several NFL teams, but never appeared in an official game.
But several other Mr. Irrelevants have carved out impressive careers, including Marty Moore who played in a Super Bowl for the New England Patriots, while kicker Ryan Succop set a record with the Kansas City Chiefs for most field goals by a rookie and played for the Tennessee Titan last season.
Mr. Irrelevants will always be linked by the Lowsman Trophy, which is presented at the official banquet where they are gently roasted.
The name Lowsman is a play on words reference to the Heisman, the trophy awarded each year to the best player in American college football.
The Lowsman Trophy depicts a player fumbling a football, a bit cruel but nonetheless always accepted by the recipient with good humor, says Fitch.
“We don’t tar and feather him, do anything he doesn’t like,” Fitch said.
“We have to make sure we don’t have Mr. Irrelevant Week without Mr. Irrelevant. We haven’t lost one yet.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Bill Berkrot