By the time the final pick in the NFL Draft comes, not too many people are paying attention. The end of the seventh round is on Saturday afternoon, and the excitement has died down, except among the hardcore fans who are already anticipating undrafted free agents
But thanks to a tradition started by a former player, the last pick of the draft is a pretty big deal now.
In 1976, former 49ers and Colts receiver Paul Salata created a series of events to celebrate the draft’s last pick, hoping to change the way a lot of people think about that last spot in the NFL draft.
“We established Irrelevant Week to drive home an important message — that it’s not a negative to be picked last in the NFL Draft; rather, it’s an honor to be drafted at all,” Salata said on the Irrelevant Week website. “The last draft pick’s demonstration of perseverance is a lesson.”
Salata was a 10th round pick in the 1951 draft, when there were 30 rounds. Even though he wasn’t a last pick, he changed the way the selection is viewed.
SB Nation spoke with a couple players who were chosen with the last pick in the draft to get a feel for what the experience is really like.
The last pick of the 1998 draft, tight end Cam Quayle, played at Weber State.
Fortunate to have a quarterback who threw to him frequently, his numbers got him some interest from NFL teams.
“I have to admit, I was pretty naive to the whole process,” Quayle told SB Nation. “Weber State doesn’t have a whole lot of players that go through the draft each year. And so, my agent, in talking to different people, they said, ‘Probably go maybe late rounds, possibly free agent. It could be anything.’ I didn’t do any of the all-star games. I wasn’t invited to the combine.”
Then, his agent broke some good, but confusing, news to him.
“He says, ‘Dude you got picked as Mr. Irrelevant!’ and I had no idea what Mr. Irrelevant was. I never ever heard the term before,” Quayle said. “He went on to proceed with what it was, and then a few minutes later, I got a call from Paul Salata, the founder of Mr. Irrelevant, and that’s when I got really excited. He just laid out what’s going to happen, what Mr. Irrelevant was, where it was derived from, and I thought, ‘Alright, I just got selected into a pretty cool brotherhood.’”
He didn’t make the 53-man roster in Baltimore, but he got picked up by the Jaguars, who allocated him to the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe.
“Our team lived beachfront on the Mediterranean, Quayle said. We had our practices first thing in the morning, and so the rest of the day we had to ourselves.”
2003’s Mr. Irrelevant, wide receiver Ryan Hoag, didn’t start playing football full-time until college.
At Wake Forest, he tried out for the tennis team and didn’t make it, then tried out for soccer.
“They gave me my own personal tryout,” Hoag told SB Nation. “And I played out of my mind, and I essentially got asked back to continue practicing with the team. So I had made the team, and the next day I had 7 a.m. practice, and I overslept and got cut,” he said with a laugh. “So it was like one of those, there’s your Division I opportunity, and I just flushed it down the toilet with a boneheaded move.”
Deciding he was burnt out with soccer, he transferred to Division III Gustavus Adolphus College to be closer to home in Minnesota.
“I thought, ‘Hey, you know what I've always loved? Watching football.’ And the one time in my life I had played football, I was a quarterback and I had so much fun with it,” Hoag said. “And then at Wake Forest, they have super serious intramural sports, and I was on the flag football team, and I took a team to the southeast regional tournament and things like that. So I was like, ‘You know what, I’ve always been fast. I’m finally growing into my body. Maybe I could play college football.’”
At the end of his career at Gustavus, Hoag was the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches.
“There were scouts there every single day, and that’s when it kind of dawned on me like, oh, wow, this might actually happen,” Hoag said. “And you see your first couple of mock drafts, and people had me as high as a third fourth-rounder, and I was like, whoa. And [I was] the first Division III player to ever be invited to the NFL combine.”
He had that year’s fastest three-cone shuttle and fourth-best 20-yard shuttle drill, as well as a No. 16 finish in the 40-yard dash among wide receivers.
“It’s one thing when you really see, like, wow my game film was just as good as this dude from Notre Dame,” he said.
Playing the waiting game is one of the toughest parts about being Mr. Irrelevant.
Now that the draft is three days, the wait is even longer. For Hoag and Quayle, it was only two.
“The second day, my college had a big draft party for me,” Hoag said. “Like, 200 people in the lunchroom. They set up my phone to ring in the lunchroom, so everybody knew when I was getting an incoming call. They had like the whiteboard out with all the receivers listed, and they would cancel them out when they got drafted. And they had TV after TV on.
“You wanna talk about feeling miserable. Not for myself. I felt bad for everybody grinding out six hours of watching draft coverage. Half of them didn’t even know what the NFL Draft was or care about it and were only there because they were supporting me. But to make them sit there and just see disappointment after disappointment, and my heart was breaking for all of them.”
Hoag was so excited to get the call that he accidentally hung up on his new head coach.
“It was, ‘Can you please hold for Bill Callahan of the Raiders?’ And I was like, yes, and everybody in the place knew because they just saw my face,” Hoag recalls. “And Bill Callahan gets on and he was like, ‘How would you like to be Mr. Irrelevant?’ and I was like, ‘I am?’ and everybody just erupted, and I got so excited I hung up the phone on him, like good first impression! I hung up on my head coach — no wonder why he cut me!”
While Hoag was surrounded by his classmates, Quayle was in the dark when he found out his fate as Mr. Irrelevant. Spending the day at his parents’ house, which didn’t get ESPN2, Quayle found out over the phone.
“Sincerely the first thing I thought of when the phone rang and the person on the phone said it was Ted Marchibroda with the Baltimore Ravens, I totally thought my friends were punking me,” Quayle said. “I’m like alright, somebody’s grandpa’s on the phone, yanking my chain.”
Mr. Irrelevant Week celebrates the newest member of the group with banquets and activities in Newport Beach, California.
Those include a trip to Disneyland, a custom Rolex watch, and more.
“Me and my friends would get on, and then we would do the ride, and then she would escort us to the next ride, so no waiting, no nothing,” Quayle said. “I think on that day was when I realized the epitome of my irrelevance because I was standing in front of Cinderella’s castle, there was this line of little kids getting my autograph, and I just signed something for this teenager. And it was so funny because he goes, ‘Mom, that is so cool. Who was that guy?’”
There’s a lot of misconceptions about what the week entails too, since there’s still some mystery surrounding it, which some people bearing the title have a little fun with.
“You have new guys coming in all the time,” Titans kicker Ryan Succop, the most successful Mr. Irrelevant ever, told GQ. “And you’ll be sitting in the ice bath or something, and you’ll introduce yourself. And they’re like, ‘Oh, weren’t you Mr. Irrelevant a while ago?’ I always mess with the guys and tell them crazy gifts [I got], all kinds of stuff that’s not true.
“I throw in all kinds of stuff,” Succop continued. “Million dollars cash, whatever I’m feeling that day.”
Mr. Irrelevant usually ends up going pro in something other than sports.
Hoag is now a teacher and head boys’ tennis coach at his high school alma mater in Minnesota, but had a brief reality TV career. He went on ABC’s The Bachelorette and Bachelor Pad in 2008 and 2012.
“I never had any visions of reality grandeur,” Hoag said. “I actually had no intention of going on a show like that, but it kind of fell into my lap. It was terrible, The Bachelorette, so fake and scripted. They try to get you drunk — I’m not a drinker — so they can elicit a response they want, and if they don’t get the response they want, they send you home.”
“I feel like I fulfilled the definition of Irrelevant,” Hoag said. “You know, I got cut 15 times in pro sports. With that being said, I got the chance to play for five NFL teams, I got to go to six NFL camps, I got to go to three or four other pro camps, play in the AFL, the NFL Europe, the UFL, the Arena League, Canadian Football League, Italian Football League — you name it, I played in it.
Quayle is now a pediatric dentist in Utah. He got into dental school the December before he was drafted. After he suffered a neck injury in 2003, his agent recommended he hang up football, which he said changed his life as he knew it.
“He said, ‘You know what, Cam, if you were any of my other players, I would say get your neck back into shape, get rehabilitated, and keep pursuing it, but I’ve got three boys. You’ve met my boys. If you were any one of my boys, and you have what you have, I would say stop playing ball and go back to dental school. You’ve got the ultimate back-up plan.’”
Although Quayle doesn’t watch nearly as much football nowadays as he used to, it’s still an important part of who he is.
“I have a lot of conversations daily as a pediatric dentist with kids and parents that, word gets out, I’ll have some grinning, little 10-year-old that’ll come up to me and say, ‘Is it true you played in the NFL?’” Quayle said. “It’s not something I promote. It’s just in our community, and little kids love to talk about it. But yeah, it’s still a very big part of my life.”