Comments & Curiosities: A good time to be irrelevant

Does no one notice you?

When you tell your doctor, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this," does he say, "So don't do that?"

When you go to the airport, do the security people wave you through and tell you to just leave your shoes on?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you might be irrelevant. Not to worry. Worse things can happen. Look at Cheta Ozougwu. He's irrelevant, and he's thrilled about it.

Ozougwu was the last pick in this year's NFL draft, which means of course that he is the centerpiece, the hero, the exceedingly big dog of Irrelevant Week XXXVI — that's Irrelevant Week 36 if you're not an ancient Roman — which begins with the not-at-all traditional high-octane, pure fun, always bizarre waterside kickoff at the Newport Dunes from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday.

It's a music, cheerleader, margarita, generally crazy thing, with the Newport Beach Fire Department manning the grills, turning out chili dogs and burgers like it was a fire sale.

This year's final man of the final hour, Ozougwu, a standout defensive end at Rice, was the last pick in the seventh round of the NFL Draft, 254th to be exact, and will go to the Houston Texans. Cheta is a nickname by the way. His full name is Chetachi Ozougwu, which is a little formal for Texas, thus the nickname, Cheta, which is much more down home.

Of course, there may not even be an NFL season this year, with yet another millionaires-versus-billionaires war going on in the NFL. Not only does that kind of disconnect fit Irrelevant Week like a glove, but it doesn't bother the event's founder and inimitable top cop, Paul Salata, one bit.

"People want football, and we aim to bring them football," Salata told the Daily Pilot. "Sure, it's only one guy, but it's a start."

From start to finish, Irrelevant Week is all in fun, of course, and nothing more than the title "Mr. Irrelevant" itself, considering any of the very best college players across the country would give up at least one body part to be picked in the NFL draft, first, last or middle.

Salata, a football legend who played in three quarters at USC and probably twice that many with the San Francisco 49ers, got the idea for Irrelevant Week in 1976, when he was manning the phones for that year's NFL draft. He was struck by the full-on over-the-top frenzy over the first draft pick versus the deafening silence over the last. He decided to dub that year's last pick, now too irrelevant to remember, "Mr. Irrelevant," and invited him to Newport Beach for a series of tongue-in-cheek honors. And thus, XXXV years ago, Irrelevant Week was born.

Little did Salata know what a game-changer it would be. Before long, Mr. Irrelevant and his special week became so popular that teams were zigging and zagging and head-faking over their closing round picks in the hope of claiming Mr. Irrelevant for their own. In 1979, the NFL actually passed the "Salata Rule" to force teams to make their pick and restore some order to the closing round. Every year since, when the time comes to announce the NFL's last man of the last hour, it is none other than Salata who takes the microphone to break the news to the national press.

On Wednesday night, Ozougwu will get the full Monty tease treatment at the All Star, All Sports Lowsman Banquet at the Newport Beach Marriott, as a star-studded line-up of former players and coaches give the young man "advice" on the ins and outs of being the newest new kid on the block in the NFL, assuming there is an NFL this year, which could happen, maybe.

At the banquet, Ozougwu will receive the polar opposite of the Heisman Trophy: the Lowsman Trophy — a highly coveted, sort of, bronze sculpture of a shocked receiver fumbling away the ball. The rest of the week is a blur of red-carpet visits for Ozougwu and his family to Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth, I guess, and an afternoon of sailing courtesy of the Balboa Yacht Club with a big barbecue-party thing to follow.

Do I have any advice for Ozougwu? Let's see. Based on my extensive knowledge of football, I would strongly suggest staying off the 55 Freeway if at all possible, go with combo No. 2 at In-N-Out, always carry one of those Tide stain pens, very cool, and never buy extended warranties. I think that's it.

Irrelevant Week XXXVI — can you believe it? I guess Julius was right. Tempus fugit. Seriously. Best of luck, Ozougwu, you are a great Texan. All you need now is a season. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at ptrb4@aol.com.

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