Irrelevant Week XXXV: A relevant helping hand

Being from Texas, Homer Bludau knows a little bit about football. He probably wouldn't be hanging around a throwback player like Paul Salata if that weren't the case.

As the former city manager of Newport Beach, Bludau jokes that it was his job to make sure the garbage man picked up Salata's trash. He must have collected at Salata's house on a daily basis.

Salata, a former USC and San Francisco 49ers player, has no complaints about Bludau's 10 years on the job. As a reward, when Bludau retired in September, Salata gave Bludau a new job in town to stay busy.

The 64-year-old, who was making six figures before he retired, was now an unpaid volunteer for Salata's Irrelevant Week. The title, executive director, was at least a lofty one for Bludau.

The position had Bludau dealing with more than Salata's jokes. Salata planned for Bludau to negotiate with the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Working with Salata was the fun part. Under Goodell's watch, the NFL can be the "No Fun League" at times.

The NFL is a business and anything with its iconic red, white and blue shield is usually a moneymaker. The logo adorns everything, from jerseys, to hats, to gloves, to unrelated NFL items like golf balls.

One event that Bludau knows isn't irrelevant to the NFL is Irrelevant Week.

Salata made it Bludau's responsibility to make sure the NFL shield protects the event Salata founded in Newport Beach that has celebrated the last player chosen in the NFL Draft for the past 34 years.

The party turns 35 on June 30. Salata said it's time for the NFL to have a formal partnership with Irrelevant Week.

"They've been partners, undercover partners," Salata joked of the NFL. "They provide us with things. The commissioner always sends a dull watch. The commissioner sends us a letter for that. They send T-shirts and stuff they use for official garb, and they send us a bunch of hats."

Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach can't survive on just donated clothes. Everyone who has met Salata understands he will gladly take the NFL gear.

What Salata receives, he gives a chunk back to the community. Since 1976, Salata said Irrelevant Week has raised more than $1 million for charities in Orange County.

But the man, whose daughter, Melanie Salata-Fitch, said wears a hat that resembles a spaghetti strainer, has reached a boiling point. The time and energy Salata has devoted in getting sponsors to donate to keep the event honoring the underdog alive is waning.

"We're at the point where I'm 80-something-years-old," said Salata, who is 83 and adds that he gets asked, "So, how long are you going to last?"

Salata said he's in good health at his age. He's more worried about Irrelevant Week lasting in Newport Beach after this year.

"[The NFL] said in order to have us sanction you and move it along … you got to have a paid director and you got to assure that the town wants to keep it to raise the money that goes toward that. And they're right," Salata said. "Thirty-five years is enough. We know that we're getting things from friends, and this and that. Pretty soon, [a partnership] is inevitable. We're going to have a staff and do it like a business that it is.

"We're in control, but if [the NFL] offered eight figures, seven figures, whatever to us, our corporation, we wouldn't turn it down."

Salata-Fitch, who runs Irrelevant Week, said the problem lies on the location of Irrelevant Week. The Salata family wants to keep the event in Newport Beach.

If the NFL had its way with Irrelevant Week, Salata-Fitch says Newport Beach will most likely see it sail away.

"We'll bring it to New York and we'll have him on … Letterman," Salata-Fitch said is the NFL's preliminary plan with Mr. Irrelevant. "They want to take it over, but there's a group of people here … that is leading to keep it here because [it has been here for] 35 years. It's good for Newport Beach and Orange County. People like coming.

"[Bludau is raising] money to show the NFL that there is a passion for it out here. It's just not the Salata family. The community embraces it."

Bludau has learned to accept one aspect of his role in keeping Irrelevant Week in the Back Bay. Raising money is new to him.

As a city manager, Bludau said he worked for the seven city council people in Newport Beach. He said he managed the city and made sure all the city services ran at their best and employees performed their jobs.

So, how has Bludau performed in his new job? Bludau said Irrelevant Week has raised $50,000 in cash, half of Irrelevant Week's three-month fundraising goal.

With upcoming pledges, Salata believes the total will reach $100,000. A smiling Salata said, "$200,000 would be better."

This is where Salata believes the NFL can play a big role in financially backing Irrelevant Week.

"They're turning away sponsors and other people," Salata said of the NFL. "They add two zeroes to our $50,000. They got $22 billion in sponsors."

Getting the NFL to sign on with Irrelevant Week isn't as easy as dollars and cents.

Salata said he and Bludau have flown to New York twice to meet with Goodell and representatives from the NFL. Bludau accompanied Salata to the NFL Draft in late April, when Salata announced the dead-last pick, No. 255, Tim Toone to the Detroit Lions.

What blew Bludau away was how the three-day draft ran so thoroughly all the way to the final pick and how many fans at Radio City Music Hall in New York stuck around to see Salata.

As Salata passed by the crowd, Bludau heard fans yell, "Hey! There's Mr. Irrelevant! Hey Paul, how are you doing?"

Salata felt pretty good after Bludau's talk with Goodell.

"We've had a number of conversations with [the NFL] already to date and those conversations have been very encouraging," Bludau said. "But I don't think anything happens fast with the NFL. It really takes time. They are very methodical in terms of how they do business and they're very careful.

"Irrelevant Week has survived 35 years on the strength of Paul Salata and the people he knows. The question is how do we transition when Paul doesn't have the energy to contribute like he has in the past. We think going to a business model and also having some kind of partnership with the NFL will give Irrelevant Week great strength for many years to come."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°