ON THE THIRD DAY of the 2022 draft, Brock Purdy’s mom brought home cake and balloons as he waited to be picked. He immediately gave her his version of a dirty look, which is just a slightly raised eyebrow.

“Mom, I told you I don’t want a party,” he said. “I might not even get picked.”

“I know, I know,” Carrie Purdy said. “This is just for us to celebrate a little after it’s over. But if you do get picked…”

“You already told everybody in town to come over, didn’t you?” Brock asked.

Carrie smiled. He knows her too well. She told about 100 friends and neighbors in Maricopa County, Arizona, to hustle over if they saw Brock’s name get called. “I’ll pop all the balloons and eat the cake myself if you don’t get picked, OK?” she said. Brock laughed and nodded in agreement. He could live with that.

The draft’s sixth round began to drag on, and Purdy and his younger brother, Chubba, eventually stopped watching the draft and decided to hit Chick-fil-A. Purdy kept getting a steady string of calls from his agent saying that a certain team hoped to get him … but was picking somebody else. He’d go into another room and come back and say, “They want me as an undrafted free agent.”

He came to grips with the idea that he’d have multiple interested teams to choose from if he went undrafted, so he ducked out for some chicken sandwiches. They came back an hour later, and Brock noted that the house was a little fuller with friends and neighbors who ignored the “if he gets drafted” stipulation of the party invite.

Purdy doesn’t really get mad, though. One of his superpowers is a blood pressure that never seems to surge, which is something the NFL combine hasn’t quite figured out how to measure. So Purdy just shook his head and plopped down on the couch with his dad, Shawn, as the seventh round began.

His dad leaned over and said he thought of something funny while he was gone. “What if you’re Mr. Irrelevant, Brock?” he said. “That would be so cool, wouldn’t it?”

Everybody laughed a little at the minuscule odds of him being exactly the No. 262 pick. Whether he went unpicked or last, his mom noted that he never sounded resigned to his draft position. In Purdy’s head, this was only the latest in a lifetime of him being underrated as a quarterback. Purdy believed they’d all remember these moments a few years down the road when he made the Pro Bowl.

As the draft wound down, Purdy took a call from the 49ers and then came back into the living room. The Niners had the final pick of the draft, and they were passing on making Purdy Mr. Irrelevant. “Undrafted free agent,” he said again.

The entire house filled up with silence. His mom tried to remind everybody that going undrafted meant Brock could pick the best landing spot for himself. “I just need a shot,” Purdy chimed in.

He sat back down, and his mom noticed a sly look on her son’s face. “Is he lying?” she wondered out loud. A few people thought maybe she was right, that Purdy was pranking them all, so they pulled out their phones and started recording, just in case. “I’m glad we did,” Purdy’s mom says, “because it’s not like TMZ was there to show Brock getting drafted.”

A few minutes later, Melanie Salata-Fitch, CEO of Irrelevant Week, came out to announce the last pick late Saturday afternoon. As she began the standard “With the 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL draft…” Purdy’s name flashed across the screen before the selection was verbally announced and the whole room screamed.

Purdy’s prank (sort of) worked. That phone call wasn’t a call to make him an undrafted free agent. It was San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and CEO Jed York letting him know that they were ecstatic that they were about to pick him.

Purdy became Mr. Irrelevant. And two years later, with Purdy’s help, it’s official: Mr. Irrelevant has emerged as the most popular underdog in sports.

FIFTY YEARS AGO, Paul Salata started shopping a curious idea: What if the NFL celebrated the last pick of the draft the same way it did the first guy off the board? The idea was so good and so fun, even if there was some confusion about why he wanted to call the final pick “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Salata was one of those old-school NFL characters that gradually disappeared as pro football became The National Football League LLC. He loved football but he consciously decided to never take it — or anything else, really — too seriously. He grew up poor as one of eight kids to two Serbian immigrants, so he learned to celebrate the underdogs of the world with a sense of humor. These were his people.

Salata wasn’t just well-liked. He was a great athlete, starring in football and baseball at USC before becoming the 49ers’ 10th-round draft pick in 1949. Salata had mostly good experiences as a young receiver, but the seeds were planted about feeling like he’d entered pro football on the fringes. Even as a 22-year-old in the 1940s, he wished he and the other longshots got even a sliver of the love and attention as the blue-chippers.

Salata ultimately had a short but successful football career. He played two seasons for the Niners before going to the CFL from 1952-53. He’s the answer to a fun trivia question: Who scored the last touchdown for the 49ers as an All-America Football Conference team in 1949 and the first touchdown for the 49ers as an NFL team the next season?

After his career, he dabbled in acting — he was in “Angels in the Outfield” and fought Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments” — and started his own construction and excavation company. He came up with a genius plan in the Los Angeles area to clear hills for builders, then sell the soil and rocks from the hill to other builders and landscapers. For Paul Salata, even unwanted dirt deserved a chance to find a home.

Salata became a fixture on the former players’ circuit, where he grew close with commissioner Pete Rozelle. They were both California guys at heart, and Rozelle thought Salata was hilarious. So when Salata came to him with his Irrelevant idea, Rozelle told him to go for it.

Salata was the spirit of the operation. But he needed an efficient planner, somebody to harness his charisma and big ideas into something that functioned as an event. He knew the perfect person for the job: his daughter Melanie. She could keep him from going off the rails.

Well, sort of. By definition, Irrelevant Week has always been slightly off the rails, a giant party that dances delicately on the line between being a beautiful celebration of the NFL’s most prominent longshot and flat-out goofing on a player who most likely won’t ever make an NFL roster. The title, Mr. Irrelevant, perplexed people, then and even now sometimes, as something of an insult. But Salata thought it was an endearing term, sort of like calling the giant bouncer at the bar “Tiny.” He didn’t mean the last player selected was irrelevant; he meant that it was irrelevant where the guy had been picked. “It’s irrelevant that you’re drafted last,” Salata would say. “I want to show that the last guy is special, too.”

The entire adventure got off to a goofy start. But the Salatas wouldn’t have had it any other way. The first Mr. Irrelevant, Dayton receiver Kelvin Kirk, was the lowest draft pick in NFL history, going No. 487 at a time when the draft was 17 rounds long (this year’s draft is about half that size, at 257 total picks). Melanie, in her early 20s at the time, had meticulously scheduled a week for Kirk that would begin with her picking him up at the airport before an introductory press conference in Newport Beach.

Just one minor problem: Kirk missed his flight from Ohio. But in an era before cell phones, nobody knew at first, so Melanie waited at the airport for a few hours until Kirk called Paul to say what happened. Both Salatas realized the local news crews and writers they had pitched on capturing the next big NFL thing would be left hanging. When Melanie told her dad that they needed to figure out what to do to kill about an hour until she could get Kirk on a later flight, Paul had a ridiculous idea. “I know a guy who looks like Kelvin Kirk,” he said. “I’ll have him stand in for the real Kelvin Kirk until you get here. Nobody will know the difference.”

Melanie was in disbelief and felt a slight pang of deception at essentially lying to the media. But Paul Salata was the kind of charming character who could not only pull off an emergency stunt of this magnitude but also be forgiven for it. So he rushed over to find the lookalike — a butcher at a local grocery store — and asked him to pretend to be the last pick of the 1976 draft. “We took his apron off and got the blood cleaned off him and then sent him out there,” Melanie says.

Salata gave him some quick coaching tips on how to smile and offer nothingburger answers. Damn if it didn’t work. For about 20 minutes, the butcher gave short answers and nodded along about what a fun concept that Irrelevant Week was. Then Melanie showed up and her dad abruptly announced, “All right, that’s enough from this guy, let’s bring out the real Kelvin Kirk!” Out walked the actual first Mr. Irrelevant, and the confused media members just assumed it was part of the winking pomp and circumstance of the day. In reality, they’d just witnessed the start of the NFL draft’s most unlikely new holiday.

WITHIN A FEW YEARS, Mr. Irrelevant created an incredible predicament for Rozelle. NFL teams noticed that the last pick of the draft had begun to generate all sorts of publicity.

As the 1979 draft wound down, Rozelle found himself caught in the middle of an issue that nobody could have predicted. The Rams had the next-to-last pick and passed to the Steelers so they could then jump in and make the final selection. The Steelers saw what the Rams were trying to do and passed back to the Rams, and Rozelle jumped in and immediately created what would lovingly become known as “The Salata Rule,” which forbid the second-to-last team to pass. (This year, the Salata Rule should not be in play: The Jets have the last two picks.)

Most of the first 20 years of Irrelevant picks came and went, with only a few making a roster. But when the draft throttled down to 7 rounds in 1994, the rise of Mr. Irrelevant began in earnest. That year, an undersized, mean Kentucky linebacker named Marty Moore went No. 222 to the Patriots.

Moore flew to Newport Beach and had a week of fun. He did the staple Irrelevant Week events — a trip to Disneyland, a day-long restaurant/bar crawl, a contest against the world’s fastest beer chugger — but he also enjoyed a full day of fishing. The Salatas always try to tailor the week a bit toward the specific player, and Moore is an avid outdoorsman.

At the week-ending banquet, Moore sat down as the guest of honor. The ceremony is the culmination of the entire week, and it requires some thick skin. Salata would bring in stand-up comics and former football legends — ex-USC coach John Robinson and agent Leigh Steinberg were regulars — and the event has always toggled the line between the roasting of and the rooting for. Toward the end of the night, Salata would always present Mr. Irrelevant with his version of the Heisman, the Lowsman Trophy.

For Moore, he laughed for a while. But after about an hour of people relentlessly reminding him that he’d be driving a garbage truck in a few months, he felt his neck get a little hot. “It pissed me off,” he says. “But ultimately, it pissed me off in a good way. I left there determined to prove them wrong.”

He certainly did. Moore lasted eight years in the NFL, becoming the first Mr. Irrelevant to play in a Super Bowl (1996) and later to win one (2001). In retirement, he moved back to Kentucky and started a second career in medical device sales. A few years ago, he recognized the name of a new colleague in his orbit: Matt Elliott, the 1992 Mr. Irrelevant. They swapped Irrelevant tales, with Elliott telling him that when he arrived at Washington camp in 1992, he wrote his draft pick number, 336, inside his helmet to motivate himself. It worked: Elliott played 63 games in the NFL, which at that point in the mid-1990s was the longest tenure of any Mr. Irrelevant.

Linebacker David Voboda, Mr. Irrelevant 2008, took the opposite tack at the banquet. He watched a similar cavalcade of people poke fun at him and his chances. But the Salatas took the extra step of showing Voboda’s worst play at Idaho — when a USC ball carrier faked him out so badly he just fell over onto the turf of The Coliseum — on a loop during the entire night. When his turn came at the mic, Voboda had no choice but to lean into the Irrelevant vibe. “The truth is,” he said, “my jockstrap still is laying in the Coliseum on the 12-yard line.” The room exploded with laughter.

He went on to have a solid five-year career in the NFL. But he’s also a perfect encapsulation of what has become a fascinating fraternity of characters who’ve lived the kind of wild, interesting lives that Paul Salata cherished. It’s almost like there is a little bit of magic in being No. 262 that doesn’t exist for No. 261 or No. 245 or even No. 145. If you’re the kind of person who buys studies that show nominative determinism — the idea that people named “Counsell” inordinately gravitate toward legal careers, or Paynes lean toward becoming doctors — there does feel like a symbiotic relationship between being anointed as the most celebrated underdog in sports and then their Rudy-ishness begins to manifest itself.

Vobora laughs at that idea but also agrees with it. Vobora now runs a 501c in Texas called the Adaptive Training Foundation, which develops and implements fitness programs for people with disabilities, many of whom are military vets and first responders. “My life doesn’t happen the same way without being Mr. Irrelevant,” Vobora says. “The Mr. Irrelevant thing put a title on what I think has always been my mission, which is to be a champion for underdogs.”

But the surprising thing about the modern era of Mr. Irrelevants is that the last pick of the draft has also become inordinately valuable compared with every other seventh-round pick. In fact, in the past 15 years, the final selection of the NFL draft is closer to the value of a pick from the beginning of the seventh round than the end.

Sports Reference crunched the numbers for ESPN Stats & Information to assess the Weighted Career Approximate Value of Mr. Irrelevants versus other seventh-round picks since 1994. The data shows that between the years 1994-2008, the last pick of the draft was worth pretty much exactly what it should be as the last pick of the draft.

But since that year, when Kansas City took the most successful Mr. Irrelevant ever, Ryan Succop, the last pick of the seventh round has been sneaky good. Succop played 216 games with three different teams, won a Super Bowl with the Bucs and is the No. 32 all-time leading scorer in NFL history with 1,430 points.

Succop certainly skews the numbers. But the past four Mr. Irrelevants — Desjuan Johnson (picked by the Rams), Purdy, Grant Stuard (Bucs) and Tae Crowder (Giants) — all have played double-digit games in the league and posted a total AV of 44 so far. The 15 Mr. Irrelevants from 1994-2008 had a total of 48 in AV. This is the golden age of Irrelevant relevance.

But the truth is, no matter how solid some of his predecessors have been, Purdy is a starting NFL quarterback who led the Niners to a Super Bowl at age 24. He’s well on his way to becoming the best last pick ever, if he hasn’t already, and if he has too many more seasons as an MVP vote-getter, he’ll easily become the most important Mr. Irrelevant in NFL history. “Guys like Brock Purdy, we know if they get a chance, they can make it,” Melanie Salata-Fitch says.

As much as her dad enjoyed seeing all of his Irrelevant children succeed, though, Paul Salata may have had no bigger personal joy than watching his actual kids become fixtures at his side. His son, Bradley, has helped out for years, and Melanie has become the force and face of Irrelevant Week. By the early 2010s, Paul was in his 80s and turned over to her his beloved role announcing the last pick at the podium. Melanie has done it for the past 13 years, and she remembers her dad getting a little misty when she commanded the stage for the first time.

Salata died in October of 2021, at age 94, complete with a lengthy obituary in The New York Times. He loved Irrelevant Week, the 49ers and his family, so he passed happily knowing all three were in a very good place.

A few months later, Melanie couldn’t believe it when the NFL called to let her know that the first draft since her dad passed would go to a heartwarming place: the San Francisco 49ers.

PURDY LANDED with the Niners in a roundabout way. The Niners had moved up in the 2017 draft to pick QB C.J. Beathard in the third round. They then developed Beathard for four years before the Jaguars swooped in and signed him as a free agent in 2021. In return, the Jags sent the compensatory pick that would become No. 262 back to the Niners.

But the Niners already had traded for Jimmy Garoppolo and gone to a Super Bowl with him, and they added Trey Lance as their No. 3 overall pick in 2021. So Purdy was a nice player. But he was an afterthought in the QB room. Maybe he’d turn into a C.J. Beathard-type backup.

He’d been an afterthought before, though. As a little kid, Purdy was a star QB for his flag football teams. After years of pestering to play tackle football, his parents finally caved when he turned 11. At a preseason meet-and-greet for the entire team, his new coach mentioned that they already had a starting QB who was a year older than Purdy.

“What other position are you interested in?” he asked.

“Quarterback,” Purdy said.

“Only quarterback?” the coach asked.

Purdy nodded yes. The coach smiled and penciled Purdy in as a backup quarterback/starting offensive lineman. He did his usual Brock Purdy thing, though, and eventually took over the starting job. Purdy has a fire and competitiveness that is buried so deep underneath a cool outer shell. He has an edge and a feistiness but it doesn’t come with yelling and fiery halftime speeches. “His confidence is a quiet confidence,” his mom says.

Purdy found himself in similar situations in high school and college, when he began as the undersized backup and broke into the lineup to set school records. By the time he left Iowa State, NFL teams probably should have spotted the trend. “He’s never had a backup plan,” Carrie Purdy says. “He wasn’t going to be a pharmaceutical sales rep or real estate agent. He was going to be a football player.”

After Melanie Salata-Fitch announced his name on stage at the draft, the rest of the afternoon was a blur at the Purdy house. About 100 people ended up meandering over to the house. A few people hit a sporting goods store on the way and grabbed 49er hats and shirts to hand out.

Over the next few weeks, the Irrelevant Week crew kicked into high gear. The organization has been a 501c3 nonprofit since 2013, and it’s run by about 50 volunteers. Melanie is the CEO, but her daughters Alix and Marie are key unpaid staffers. Alix handles marketing and partnerships when she is off the clock as a brand manager for a large network of national chain restaurants. Marie is an interior designer and does all creative direction for logos, sponsorship deals and the website.

They both play critical roles in planning the events, ranging from the banquet to a wacky golf tournament where bystanders are encouraged to throw pies and water balloons at Mr. Irrelevant and every other golfer. The banquet is key: That night generates a giant chunk of the budget. Tables sell as high as $10,000, and a silent auction brings in more money. Every year, they pick a different charity — usually it’s youth sports-related — to donate to.

For Purdy, the Salatas connected with him and his family about molding his week toward him. He expressed interest in surfing, so Salata set up a day at the beach, complete with a Niner-themed surfboard as a gift for Purdy.

Almost as soon as the draft ended, the Purdy pick caused a surge in popularity in Irrelevant Week. Newport Beach is a seven-hour drive from San Francisco, but the town and event have always felt like 49er country because of Salata. Purdy’s Irrelevant Week would eventually drum up a record $100,000 for the organization.

The Purdys had a blast that week in June 2022. Purdy brought his sister, parents and grandparents, and did surfing, Disneyland and a slew of off-the-wall stuff that Irrelevant Week prides itself on. He made pizzas, filmed a fake hemorrhoid ad and participated in a sailing contest.

The wildest part, the one the Salatas still laugh about to this day, was the restaurant tour. The Purdys all gathered at Marie’s house before the tour began, and someone discovered a random megaphone that she had. Pretty soon, they’d left the house with many of Irrelevant Week’s rowdy volunteers, all wearing beads and necklaces, carrying a flag and a megaphone.

As the mayhem descended upon the Newport Beach boardwalk, people took turns loudly announcing the presence of Purdy, over and over again. “Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Mr. Irrelevant of the 2022 draft, the future quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers… Brock Purdy!” various people would boom. Random members of the horde kept yelling, “Brockstar!” and the Irrelevant team would all look to see Purdy’s reaction.

“It got to the point where I saw people on the beach sitting up from their towels and staring at all the commotion,” Marie says. “Brock is such a low-key guy so him just smiling and looking like, ‘What is this?’ was so amusing. We looked like we had formed our own parade.”

The week was unforgettable for the whole Purdy crew, and what happened next is, of course, history. Purdy has gone 17-4 as a starter, with 44 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in two seasons. He’s been in one Super Bowl and two NFC title game, overcoming a significant elbow injury to come back and yes, he made his first Pro Bowl in 2023. York reiterated recently that the team considers him the cornerstone of the franchise. He’s a star.

“By the end, I believed in the way he told his story that he could make it,” Alix says. “He had the composure of a seasoned quarterback. I had a feeling that if he ever got the chance, he would crush it.”

On March 9, Purdy and his girlfriend, Jenna Brandt, got married in a secretive ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa. It was a hilarious reminder of where Purdy came from and where he is now. Three hundred people attended, including a bunch of teammates from Iowa State and the 49ers. All guests were asked to leave their phones at the front door, and the plan was to post professional photos on social media a few days later.

But on the day of the wedding, a family member pulled Carrie Purdy aside and said, “Did you see the cameras outside?”

“Cameras?” Purdy asked. They hired four photographers, who ended up taking 11,000 pictures, so her first thought was that one of those photographers must be what the person saw.

“No, they’re in vans, taking photos with long-distance lenses,” Purdy was told.

Purdy was even more perplexed now. But after asking around, she had to smile when she heard where the cameras were from: TMZ.


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