Los Angeles Times

Mr. Irrelevant networks

ANAHEIM — Cheta Ozougwu is as much a fan of the characters at Disneyland as he is of an animated one on the NFL Network. He wanted to meet Mickey Mouse before Warren Sapp on Tuesday.

A trip to Disneyland was in store before Ozougwu rode to Culver City to do an interview on the NFL Network.

Ozougwu planned to high-five Mickey Mouse on his first trip to Disneyland. Later in the day, he could shake the right hand that helped Sapp record 961/2 sacks during his 13-year NFL career as a defensive tackle.

Before Ozougwu made it into the amusement park, he walked around by himself. No one really noticed the 6-foot-2, 247-pounder with bulging arms. He wore a Houston Texans jersey, as if that might set off alarms that the last player selected in the NFL Draft was about to be in Mickey's house.

The jersey did not enhance his appearance. Mr. Irrelevant lived up to his nickname. Kids were more fascinated with Disneyland, which was open for business, unlike the NFL, which has locked its doors.

With no contract and the NFL in a lockout, visiting the "Happiest Place on Earth" cheered up Ozougwu.

Irrelevant Week founder and organizer Paul Salata skipped out on Disneyland. Perhaps when you're 84 like Salata, Disneyland doesn't do much for you.

But there appeared to be a photo of Salata flashing on the "s" in the Disneyland sign out in front of the park. Melanie Salata-Fitch believed the picture looked like her dad. The old man had a hat on and everything, and that goofy smile.

Ozougwu wasn't paying attention to the Salata double. He was playing patty-cake with his sisters Chinenye and Ngozi, and brothers Chuck and Joseph.

Once they grew tired of clapping hands, it was time to check out Disneyland, and for Ozougwu to change.

Ozougwu took off his jersey, because no one recognized No. 254 anyway. When has an NFL player ever worn a triple-digit number in a game?

Ozougwu put on a polo shirt, fitting in with the rest of the crowd. And Disneyland treated him like any other guest when it came to the rides.

In the past, Mr. Irrelevant used to go right to the front of the line and not wait an hour like most folks. Those days are clearly over.

Ozougwu could not even get on the two roller coasters he was looking forward to experiencing. Space Mountain and the Matterhorn Bobsleds were both out of service.

"That's a bummer," said Ozougwu, who did not have much time in the morning to spend at Disneyland because of the scheduled national interview with the NFL Network in the afternoon.

What could Mr. Irrelevant do in less than 90 minutes at one of the busiest parks in the world?

Someone suggested to Ozougwu that the Mad Tea Party was the perfect ride for him, even though he was a larger-than-life figure compared to the kids in line. Ozougwu shook his head at first, but realized he only had to stand in line for 10 minutes at best before he spun around in a giant tea cup with Chinenye, a 25-year-old nurse.

There are two other nurses in the Ozougwu family, Ngozi and his mother, Josephine. Ngozi missed one of the more thrilling rides, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, because she is four months pregnant.

Josephine sat it out as well. The break gave her and Ngozi a chance to grab a bite. Josephine also tried to figure out why the internet connection was down on her iPad.

Before she fixed the issue with the tablet, it was time to leave Disneyland. Ozougwu vowed to return later.

Next was an hour drive to the NFL Network studios. Ozougwu arrived 45 minutes before the interview, surprising Marcus Smith, a producer at the network.

Who arrives early to anything in Los Angeles?

The problem was Ozougwu was too early. Rich Eisen, who was going to interview Ozougwu, was getting his makeup done before he turned around to see Ozougwu and those around him.

"You got your whole family in here," said Eisen, surprised to see Ozougwu rolling with a nine-person posse when he hasn't even made it in the NFL yet.

Everyone but Ozougwu's father, Aja, made the trip.

With time to kill, Smith led the group to the cafeteria, where there stood Sapp, someone larger than Ozougwu.

Sapp, supposedly 6-2 and 300 pounds, made his presence felt. He had already ordered lunch when he approached Ozougwu.

Sapp butchered Ozougwu's name the same way Salata did in April, when he announced that the Texans used the last pick on Ozougwu.

"Cheddar, like you were on a hamburger!" Sapp said while laughing.

Sapp wished Ozougwu the best. If Ozougwu gets to play for the Texans as an outside linebacker, Sapp will get to analyze his play.

Sapp had some of the best footwork for a lineman his size. Ozougwu remembers those feet helped Sapp slide into second place on "Dancing With the Stars" three years ago.

Sapp can probably pull off Mickey Mouse's "Hot Dog" dance.

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