Paul Salata, who created the Mr. Irrelevant award that honors the last selection in the NFL Draft after playing football in USC and in the NFL and the Canadian Football League, died on Saturday. He was 94 years old.
He died of natural causes at his home in Newport Beach, Calif., A day before his 95th birthday, his nephew Nick Salata told The Associated Press.
Although the NFL draft dates back to 1936, Salata created the Mr. Irrelevant award in 1976. The player and his family were invited to spend a week in Orange County to enjoy activities, including a trip to Disneyland and a golf tournament. The winner received the Lowsman Trophy featuring a player groping a soccer ball. Kelvin Kirk of the University of Dayton was the first to receive the 487th pick that year.
“Irrelevant Week” generated so much publicity that in 1979 the Los Angeles Rams, who had the second-last pick, intentionally left the Steelers, with the last pick, to pick first. Pittsburgh also wanted publicity and was also successful. Both teams refused to choose a player until Commissioner Pete Rozelle forced them to choose, with the Steelers winning. This led to the so-called Salata rule, which prohibits teams from passing to get the final selection.
In February, a Mr. Irrelevant played and won a Super Bowl for the first time. Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop started the game. He was the last pick in the 2009 draft.
Salata was a wide catcher at USC in 1944, ’46, and ’47. The Trojans have won league titles every year and played in the Rose Bowl in 1945, when Salata touched a touchdown in their 25-0 win over Tennessee. He missed the following season while serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Salata was also an infielder for the 1948 Trojans baseball team that won the school’s first College World Series title. He then played minor league baseball.
He played in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers (1949-50), Baltimore Colts (1950) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1950-51), capturing 50 assists and four TDs during his career. He also played in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders in 1952, winning all-star honors that season, and with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1953.
After her retirement, Salata worked in construction, most notably as a sewer contractor.
Salata appeared in 18 films primarily in the 1950s, including “Angels in the Outfield” starring Janet Leigh. His uncredited appearances included “Singin ‘in the Rain”, “The Ten Commandments”, “Stalag 17” and “The Joker Is Wild”.
âEvery time ‘Stalag 17’ was on TV, we watched it for the 800th time,â said Nick Salata. “I can imagine him coming back to Aunt Beverly and saying, ‘Honey, I’m going to quit football and the theater and become a sewer contractor. “He was a great guy.”
Salata is survived by his second wife, Carolyn, son Bradley, daughter Melanie Fitch, two granddaughters and brother George. He was predeceased by his first wife Beverly in 2003.