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Who'll be Mr. Irrelevant?
ESPN The Magazine

Leave the top of the draft to Boomer and Kiper. We'll take care of the bottom. ESPN The Magazine's David Fleming spends Draft Week scouting candidates for Mr. Irrelevant -- the 246th and final pick on April 22. Follow the Mr. Irrelevant DraftTracker ... today we take a look at a collection of kickers and punters who could end up being Mr. I.

After becoming the first pick in this weekend's NFL draft, Michael Vick's mode of transportation will be either limo or luxury sedan. One day and some 245 picks later, the Arizona Cardinals will make the final selection. And after becoming the last pick in this year's NFL draft, Mr. Irrelevant's mode of transportation will be ... a blue ceramic whale.

For the last pick in the draft, a.k.a. Mr. Irrelevant, the honors don't stop there.

Last year's lucky Mr. Irrelevant, No. XXV, was Northwestern State (La.) free safety Michael Green, taken by the Bears with the 254th pick. Green was treated to a week-long celebration in Newport Beach, Calif. After floating up to the harborside festivities in the big blue whale (as is customary), Green was showered with, among other things, a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card from the local police chief, a new watch, an Irrelevant Week golf wedge, a party at Disneyland and, of course, the Lowsman Trophy.

This bronze statuette features a player fumbling away the ball, a look of panic and horror on his face. "Some players get the Heisman," says Mr. Irrelevant creator and curator, Paul Salata. "And some get the Lowsman."

Like most Mr. I's -- and the rest of us, for that matter -- Green was a bit hesitant to celebrate his own insignificance. After all, he had run a 4.46 in the 40, racked up 99 tackles in '99 and was rated among the top 20 safeties in the draft last year. But there were at least 50 DBs behind him who didn't even get a phone call. So in an odd way, being tagged Mr. Irrelevant is something of a coveted honor in today's hyper-competitive NFL.

What the players quickly realize is that the week-long celebration is the ultimate tribute to the underdog. It also gently pokes some much-needed fun at the draft, which has become one of the sports world's most cartoonish, couch-'tater-catered events. The free stuff -- hundreds of gifts, free meals, free flights and a week at a Cali resort with more than a dozen of your Mr. I brethren, like former Carolina Panther Matt Elliott -- ain't bad either.

"At first some guys are reluctant," says Salata. "After a while though, they see how well we treat them and pretty soon Mr. Irrelevant realizes that the No. 1 pick isn't having nearly as much fun as he's having."

The 74-year-old Salata is a former Colt and a sewer contractor in Newport Beach. He started the tribute to the NFL's biggest underdog 26 years ago with a banquet, parties and a string of odd celebrations (including a beer-can regatta and a speed-golf tournament) to honor the University of Dayton's Kelvin Kirk. Kirk was pick No. 487 in 1976, when the draft had 17 rounds and went on for the entire month of April and a good part of May.

Now the Mr. I festivities have become such a big deal that the NFL itself helps sponsor the event. It even flies Salata to New York City to announce the final selection. (And you thought this was the No Fun League.) "It's like a lifetime goes by waiting for that pick," says Salata, echoing the sentiments of many viewers. "You never thought 20 hours of drafting could go by so slowly."

Sadly, only seven of the 25 Mr. I's lasted more than one season in the NFL. A few didn't even bother to show up for training camp. But since 1994, Salata's selections have been, well, almost relevant. Linebacker Marty Moore, 1994's Mr. I, played in Super Bowl XXXI with the Patriots and is currently on the Cleveland roster; 1997's Mr. I, QB Ron McAda, is with the Broncos; 1999's Mr. I, former Penn fullback Jim Finn, is with the Colts; and the Bears, who traded down to get Mr. I last year, have kept Green on their roster.

This year's Mr. I? It's a tough call. Mel Kiper can predict the first 10 picks of the draft, but how 'bout the last 10? Now that's some prolific prognostication.

These days, everybody needs speed and guys with multiple skills. The Bears took Green because he was the best athlete left on their board. Right now the Cardinals have the final pick (although that could change) and Arizona needs so much help it's hard to narrow the choices down. In my scouting reports, I'm looking at linemen on both sides of the ball, linebackers, fullbacks and DBs.

While this year's Mr. I may still be a mystery, Salata has his eye on an emcee:

"If what I hear about you is correct, David, you seem to be over-qualified to be the Grand Marshal of Mr. Irrelevant Week."

It's gonna be a whale of a time.

Follow the Mr. Irrelevant DraftTracker! Today's candidates: Kickers and punters. Next on ESPNMAG.com, David Fleming profiles Mr. Irrelevant. E-mail flemfile@aol.com.



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