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Steinberg: It's that irrelevant time of the year again

June 30, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg
(Courtesy of Northern…)

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 dead last player taken in the NFL 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 franchises 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 of mine ever since.

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Salata is a civic treasure with a hilariously satirical bent, and his daughter Melanie Salata Fitch 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," she recalled. "When we brought Ramzee Robinson to the 2007 banquet on the Dunes whale it might have been better."

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 – quarterback 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.

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