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Salata's wonderful life

Irrelevant Week

The man behind Irrelevant Week makes it fun, perhaps because of his intriguing past.

June 14, 2011|By Steve Virgen, steve.virgen@latimes.com

Salata, of Serbian descent, was the second of seven Salata boys. When Paul was 12, his father, Chetko, died suddenly.

Paul and some of his brothers had to go to work to help their mother, Melania.

"We didn't know any better," Paul says of his childhood. "Sometimes we didn't have a car. There were like two cars per block where we lived. We just did what they told us … Education was the most important thing."

Paul was a newspaper boy, selling papers at the street corner. The Salata brothers also worked on catering trucks and sometimes ate the leftovers. They would tend gardens and sometimes picked lettuce and carrots for themselves. Other times there were meals offered after mass at their local church.

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Somehow, Paul found opportunity and he found it with athletics.

"I was up for anything," Salata said. "I did high jump and track, baseball and football."

At Franklin High in Highland Park, Salata starred in football. He said he was named third-team All-City before graduating a year early.

He worked his way to a scholarship to play at USC.

He served 18 months in the Army Air Corps. before going back to playing football at USC.

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TROJAN FOR LIFE

When Salata talks about playing football at USC he speaks of his alma mater with great fondness.

"It was the big time," Salata said.

Salata, a receiver, or an end in those days, says he holds many memories in high regard, but one sticks out: Jan. 1, 1945. USC beat Tennessee, 25-0, in theRose Bowl.

He still has the picture of the young Salata catching a touchdown pass. In the background, the scoreboard is a visible along with a sold-out crowd.

"But I caught two touchdowns," Salata jokes.

He shows another picture of a catch in the end zone with a foot clearly inbounds, but the referee missed the call.

"The record book shows I only scored one touchdown," Salata says. "But the picture shows I had two."

Salata still attends USC games and he remains a loyal supporter of the football team, even in these hard times for the Trojans. He has a scholarship in his name, reserved for the special teams captain.

That makes Salata smile.

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MADE TO BE A PRO

When Salata finished at USC, he played in a semi-pro-type league. It was there he was scouted by the San Francisco 49ers and was asked to try out for the team. He played for the 49ers for two years and still attends the organization's alumni weekend each year.

Salata also played for the Baltimore Colts, where he caught 50 passes in 1950.

"I was third in the league," Salata said.

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