It was one of those existential moments perhaps only Jean-Paul Sartre could have savored properly. Michael Green was on the horn with his college sweetheart, Shayla Hunter, ruminating on his relevance. The Northwestern State ( Louisiana) free safety had just been picked 254th and dead last in the 2000 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears. That dubious distinction entitled Green to be the guest of honor at the 25th annual celebration of Irrelevant Week, pro football's last hurrah and tribute to the truly trivial. "Getting named Mr. Irrelevant sounds like a bad thing," Hunter told Green. "Like you don't matter. Like you're a nobody."
"I may be a nobody," Green replied, "but somebody just called and offered us a free trip to Southern California."
"That's relevant," Hunter said. "When do we leave?"
Which is how Green and Hunter wound up in Newport Beach the third week in June for a half-madcap carnival of banquets, parties and inconsequential sporting events. In the great Irrelevant tradition, Green arrived at Pavilions 2 and 3 of the Newport Dunes Resort for the opening ceremony of Irrelevant Week XXV atop a fiberglass whale pushed by a powerboat. Previous inductees have come by limo, crop duster, helicopter, rocket launcher and bicycle-built-for-two.
Nine nonlegendary honorees of the past, all destined for football mortality, were flown out, too. Not among them (and thereby confirming their irrelevance) were Mr. Irrelevant XXIII (Cam Quayle, a tight end from Weber State), who got waylaid at a dental school convention in the Himalayas, and Mr. Irrelevant III ( Bill Kenney, a quarterback from Northern Colorado who shared that year's honors), who left word that he'd be arriving Sunday, the day after the festivities ended.
Most Mr. Irrelevants have quickly faded into Mr. Oblivion—only seven have lasted through their NFL maiden seasons. The most irrelevant was Lee Washburn, a Montana State guard who in 1978 didn't even bother going to the Dallas Cowboys' training camp. "Washburn told us he couldn't attend this year's silver anniversary," reports event founder Paul Salata. "I told him it didn't matter. It's Irrelevant Week. We don't give a damn if he makes it or not."
Happily, or unhappily, the least irrelevant Mr. Irrelevant did show up: Marty Moore, a linebacker from Kentucky and six-year NFL veteran. Not content to be the only Mr. Irrelevant to start his first NFL game, Mr. I XIX played for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. "That was a slap in the face of irrelevancy," said Salata, the 73-year-old retired sewer contractor who cooked up this paean to point-lessness. (The NFL, which helps sponsor the event, lets Salata announce the final draft pick each year.)
The first final pick to be Irrelevant, Dayton wideout Kelvin Kirk, missed his plane to the celebration. That might have stopped a lesser man (if there were a lesser man), but not Salata, who enlisted an imposter to take Kirk's place in the parade in Newport Beach. "I don't know if those old Mr. Irrelevant parades qualify as parades," says Tyrone McGriff, a guard from Florida A&M, the 333rd pick in the 1980 draft. "They'd have TV cameras, but there would be nothing to film. Nobody was cheering on the street, nobody watched, nobody cared."
Being the last man standing has benefits. "It opens lots of doors," said Moore—in former West Point quarterback Ron McAda's case, car doors. "My customers know I'm Mr. Something, they just don't know what," says Mr. Irrelevant XXII, who sells used cars in Mesquite, Texas. "I've been called Mr. Irascible, Mr. Irresponsible, Mr. Irrational. Once, a pretty girl came up to me and asked, 'You're Mr. Irresistible, aren't you?' I said, 'That's for you to say.' "
Mr. Irrelevants come to expect such impertinence. At a midweek testimonial Green was roasted by Salata ("Mike was a 3.8 student—that's total credits, not grade point average") and toasted by the unnecessary (agent Leigh Steinberg) and the insignificant (onetime Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrrell, trampled in 1982 on Cal's game-winning, five-lateral kickoff return through the Cardinal band on the last play).