Advertisement

Irrelevant Week: Relevance that resonates

June 24, 2011|By Julie Buehler

I have been covering sports for more than a decade and in practicing journalism, we're conditioned to focus on the champions; to seek interviews with the athletes who are the most successful, accruing the loftiest awards and achieving their ultimate dreams. Journalists are taught to look for the winners and thoroughly tell their story, because it's assumed, that is what the people want to hear about.

But then Paul Salata got an idea and for the past 36 years has been bulldozing every preconception of who decides whom the champions are. Salata, the originator of the very special Irrelevant Week celebration, turned the table on sports writers and made a champion of a nobody, and in doing so, galvanized this community and changed lives.

Cheta Ozougwu was the last name called in this year's NFL draft. His full name in Nigerian means "remember God when you're on top," but it would be impossible for him to be drafted any lower.

Advertisement

While NFL teams found 253 players more impressive than Ozougwu, none, not even top overall pick Cam Newton, received the fanfare that Ozougwu did this week. This was his family's first visit to Orange County, their first trip to Disneyland and his first Tag Heuer watch. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, not only sent a letter congratulating Ozougwu, but also added a gold watch from the NFL. The former Rice University linebacker was given hundreds of gifts, a trophy, laughs, but most importantly, invaluable memories with his family. All because he was last. Dead last.

As a journalist, this story makes no sense. There are 253 athletes deemed more relevant than Ozougwu. But as a sports fan, this is exactly why we love sports. This community celebrates a hero and this so-called Mr. Irrelevant proved how important he is.

When I walked in to interview Cheta on the first day, he was in workout clothes, drinking bottled water, answering questions with a jovial tone. The sun was pouring into the windows at the Back Bay Bistro near Newport Dunes Resort that was hosting the Arrival Party for Mr. Irrelevant. At that point, this football player was not supposed to matter. He was one of many slabs of muscle corralled through the Combine, numbers stenciled on his chest, then luckily heard his name, happened to come at the tail end of three days and seven rounds of name calling. Well after the prime-time cameras had shut off. He could have been anybody and he was considered, in the ranks of his industry, to really be nobody.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles
|
|
|