Irrelevant Justice


After countless of hours on TV, the NFL Draft ended as it usually does with the last pick, Mr. Irrelevant.

During the three-day event, draft pundits talked about 253 players, their size, their skills and their potential impact. When it came to the 254th player, the experts didn’t have to say much.

They usually run out of material by the time a team selects the final player in the draft. This is when the NFL folks in New York hand it over to a man named Paul Salata from Newport Beach.


Salata used to catch passes in the NFL 65 years ago. At age 86, he can barely catch his breath. He still made his way to the podium and delivered the news hardcore NFL fans waited for on Saturday.

“This year’s Mr. Irrelevant is the Indianapolis Colts’ [pick and they] selected Justice Hamilton, Cu-Cunningham,” Salata announced while shaking his head and smacking his forehead for butchering the last name. “Oh geez! I knew it!”

Salata then corrected himself.

“Justice Cunningham, tight end, South Carolina,” Salata said. “And Justice, we’ll be in touch with you and you’re going to have the week of your life. Bring your friends.”

The question for Cunningham now is whom will he bring to Newport Beach as his honorary guest during the Irrelevant Week festivities? He has brothers named “Power” and “Sincere” and a sister who goes by “Promise.”

The Colts obviously must have felt Cunningham has the power and promise at 6 feet, 4 inches and 264 pounds. And Cunningham is sincere about his chances of making a team with a lot of depth at tight end.

“It’s going to make me a better player and bring out the best in me,” Cunningham said of competing at tight end with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, players the Colts drafted in 2012 to catch passes and block for quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick that same year.

“The Colts told me they picked me for a reason, and it doesn’t matter that I got picked last, only that I got picked.”

The Colts already have Cunningham’s jersey, No. 254. Salata’s son-in-law, Ed Fitch, held the jersey with “MR. IRRELEVANT” on the back.

Fans cheered and laughed when Salata announced the last player taken. The line is like one of Salata’s old jokes. It never changes, just the pick’s number, the NFL team picking and the player’s name, position and college team.

Maybe Salata called Cunningham “Hamilton” on purpose, because Cunningham played for the original USC (University of South Carolina). Salata played for the University of Southern California.

Nevertheless, Salata welcomed Cunningham to the Mr. Irrelevant fraternity he founded in 1976. The event celebrates the underdog and helps donate money to charities like the Special Olympics Southern California.

Irrelevant Week is almost as old as the Super Bowl. Cunningham will get a Super Bowl-type bash thrown in his honor before he plays a down in the NFL. Mr. Irrelevant XXXVIII might never play in the NFL, so Newport Beach has its weeklong party for him.

During that time, Cunningham, a blocking tight end, will be treated as a first-round draft choice and be showered with gifts. There will be an arrival party, a trip to Disneyland and the All-Star Lowsman Banquet. At the banquet, Mr. Irrelevant is roasted and he receives the Lowsman Trophy.

The trophy is nothing like the coveted Heisman Trophy. Instead of a stiff-arm and the ball firmly secured in another arm, the Lowsman Trophy features a player fumbling the ball.

Cunningham never carried the ball much, catching 49 passes for 544 yard and one touchdown, in his four seasons with the Gamecocks.

But he knows a little bit about the Lowsman Trophy. The Colts reminded him that they took quarterback Chandler Harnish last year with the dead-last pick.

Also, a former Gamecock, kicker Ryan Succop, was Mr. Irrelevant in 2009. He’s still in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and making millions.

Cunningham said he wants everything that comes with the last pick.

No. 254 isn’t where Cunningham expected to go in the draft. He actually didn’t expect to get drafted at all.

Marvella Saint Julien, Cunningham’s mom, said she and her son were on the porch of their home in Pageland, S.C., believing Cunningham wasn’t going to get the call he wanted to receive. Other teams, the Oakland Raiders, even the Colts, Cunningham said, had contacted him about signing as a free agent.

“Then we got the call from the Colts that he was going to get picked and we started crying together,” Saint Julien said. “We walked back into the house. We were just crying and we didn’t let the rest of the family know about the call. We just wanted to see it on TV. We wanted to hear his name called.

“When we heard the man at the podium say Justice Hamilton, we were like, ‘Oh Lord! Oh my goodness!’ We knew he messed up. We just cried and laughed together. We were just so excited that Justice finally got the recognition for all of his hard work.”