Where will the "Happiest Place on Earth" be this week. No, not Disneyland, although it is also in Orange County. It will be in Newport Beach, as the annual wackiness known as Irrelevant Week takes place at multiple venues. "Doing something nice for no good reason" is the motivation that Paul Salata used for inspiration back in 1976 when he decided to honor the last player taken in the National Football Week Draft. He created the "Lowsman Trophy" as the award, which features a bronze rendition of a player fumbling a football.
The player and his family are flown to Newport Beach, taken out on the bay, then to Disneyland and feted at a banquet. Numerous local businesses and sports franchise donate a glittering array of presents for the honoree. It wasn't until I moved to Newport Beach in the late 80s that I had any idea why Paul Salata would be at the NFL Draft in New York each year announcing the final pick. He asked me to be a presenter/roaster in 1989 and it has been a highlight ever since.
Salata is a civic treasure with a hilariously satirical bent, and his daughter Melanie Fitch Salata inherited the same zany sense of humor and passion for doing good. I caught up with Melanie last week, in the midst of frenetic preparations and asked her for some of her favorite moments. "In 1997 we delivered Ronnie McAda, who went to the military academy on a rocket launcher. When we brought Ramzee Robinson to the 2007 banquet on the Dunes whale it might have been better," she recalled. She was also in charge of finding accommodations for the honoree Tevita Ofahengaue from Utah in 2001, who brought along 63 family members. "We changed the family rule shortly after," she said.
In the early days of irrelevant week the draft was 17 rounds, and then reduced to 12, so being selected last in the draft made making an NFL roster a distant dream. In the first 13 years only two players made the roster -- QB Bill Kenney made the Chiefs in 1978 and eventually started and made the Pro Bowl. The late John Tuggle, a fullback, was a reliable player for the New York Giants. The draft has now been reduced to seven rounds. Because of salary cap constraints, teams that have star players commanding large cap-eating contracts need to be backed up by younger, lower-paid players. Teams need all their draft picks to make the roster to allow them cap flexibility. In the last 13 years, eight of the players picked last in the draft have actually made rosters or practice squads. In 2009. Ryan Succop, placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, not only won the job but finished his rookie season tying an NFL record for highest field goal percentage by a rookie in a season, making 86 percent of his attempts.
This years honoree is Chandler Harnish, a quarterback from Northern Illinois University. The Indianapolis Colts used the first pick in the first round to select Stanford QB Andrew Luck, who is expected to start this season. They came back again and added Chandler in the seventh round. Remember that the route that quarterbacks like Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselback took to get a starting position was very similar. They were stuck behind franchise type quarterbacks, but looked so promising in practice and limited service that other teams traded for them to start.
Tuesday night, unsuspecting Chandler will be roasted/toasted at the Irrelevant Week Banquet. When Paul Salata and the roasters are "on" it is one the funniest, irreverent evening imaginable. Salata is politically incorrect and out of control. Former Coach Stan Morrison delivers a rollicking speech every year in pidgin Spanish. Matt Willig shows the player what he has to look forward to. There are football legends and coaches galore. I have never represented the final player picked in the draft. My client, San Diego Charger placekicker Rolf Benirschke was picked last by the Oakland Raiders in 1977 and for some strange technicality, the Vikings pick attended. For the last 23 years I have been the official Irrelevant Week agent assigned to represent the player. Since I have represented the first player picked in the first round in eight separate drafts I have the task of negotiate a contract for the evening's festivities. It always has the largest signing bonus, because in Irrelevant World, the last shall be first. And it is chocked with incentive clauses such as "Player shall not be required to practice on any day that ends in the letter Y. I emphasize that the contract is worth the paper it is printed on.
Goodwill Services is the designated cause of the week. They do outstanding work in the field of rehabilitation. Money is raised for this incredible cause throughout the evening. The cocktail hour starts at 6 p.m. and the Banquet at 7, this Tuesday at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel. So if you want a night of laughs and warmth make sure to get your tickets, it always sells out.
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