Paul Salata, the Newport Beach businessman and philanthropist who founded Mr. Irrelevant Week 45 years ago, died Saturday, October 16th. Salata was 94 years old and passed the day before his 95th birthday this past Sunday. He had been in declining health for several years.
Salata was part of the rich bizarre history and lore of the NFL Draft. He created Irrelevant Week in 1976 to honor the last player selected in the NFL Draft, who would be known as “Mr. Irrelevant.” A week’s worth of activities, including a welcome party, a golf tournament, a trip to Disneyland and The Lowsman Banquet’ with a parade, were among the events.
Mr. Irrelevant would be presented the ‘Lowsman Trophy’, which looked like the famed Heisman Trophy except the football player on the Lowsman Trophy is dropping the football. This last selection in the NFL Draft also created the ‘Salata Rule’ after an incident in 1979 between the LA Rams and Pittsburgh Steeler. The Rams passed on the next to last selection to allow the Steelers to move up one spot and the Rams would get the final selection. The Steelers also passed on the selection which forced the Commissioner Pete Rozelle and NFL office to rule that no team can pass on the next to last selection to claim the final overall draft choice. Steelers retained the last draft choice.
Salata gave to many charitable causes – Irrelevant Week always benefited local charities – and created endowments at USC where he played football and baseball.
Salata was master of ceremony and guest of honor at many events for many years in Orange County. His quick wit was always on display. One example: Tampa Bay Buccaneers placekicker Ryan Succop was a Mr. Irrelevant when he was the last player drafted in 2009 by the Kansas City Chiefs. Succop’s last name is pronounced “suck up.” With that in mind, Salata’s introduction of Succop included, “He comes from a whole family of Succops.” As a Buccaneer in 2021, Succop became the first ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ to win a Super Bowl ring with the Bucs.
Salata was a successful sewer contractor. The late Orange County Register columnist John Hall often called Salata “The Sewer King.”
Before getting into the business world, Salata was an outstanding receiver at USC. He caught a touchdown pass for the Trojans in a 25-0 victory over Tennessee in the 1945 Rose Bowl game (Salata would claim he caught two touchdown passes in the game, but an official, Salata said, made a mistake when the official ruled Salata was out of bounds on what would have been a touchdown reception). At USC, he was an infielder and part of the Trojans’ first College World Series title. His USC playing days were interrupted by an 18-month stint in the Army Air Corps.
Salata played for the Baltimore Colts when the Colts were in the All-American Football Conference and rejoined the team when the Colts were integrated in the NFL. He played for the San Francisco 49ers in 1949 and 1950. During the 1950 season, he had 50 receptions, playing for the 49ers and Colts that season.
He also played in the Canadian Football League in which he was an all-star receiver with the Calgary Stampeders. Salata played college and minor-league baseball.
Salata was an extra or bit-player in 18 films, including as a prisoner of war in “Stalag 17,” as one of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball players in the original “Angels in the Outfield,” the ‘Ten Commandments’, ‘Singin in the Rain’, and he was the guy who sliced open Frank Sinatra’s nose in “The Joker Is Wild.”
He is survived by his wife Carolyn, daughter Melanie Salata Fitch, son Brian Salata, granddaughters Alix and Marie, and brother George.
Salata Fitch assumed the leadership role in Irrelevant Week in recent years and hopefully continues this amazing tradition.