One week last summer Brock Purdy learned to surf, rode an outrigger canoe with a group of Olympic paddlers, went on the field before an LA Angels game and rehearsed lines for a hemorrhoid commercial. These insignificant experiences were part of Irrelevant Week, a days-long celebration of the last player selected in the NFL Draft that started as a quirk and has turned into a nearly year-round operation that over 45 years has cranked out more than $1 million in charitable donations.
“We think getting drafted is an achievement and that no one is irrelevant, so we want to celebrate that and have some fun with it,” said Melanie Salata Fitch, the CEO and driving spirit of Irrelevant Week. Purdy certainly puts the proof to her words.
Selected 262nd by the 49ers, the former Iowa State quarterback was an afterthought in the offseason QB drama involving Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. But when San Francisco’s signal callers started breaking like the strings on an old guitar, it fell to the third among them to rally the team to a winning streak that stretched right into the playoffs.
Thus, Purdy has quickly become notable among all the Monsieurs Irrelevant, a designation that dates to 1976, when Paul Salata, a retired wide receiver, announced the final pick—Steelers wide receiver Kevin Kirk—and dubbed him Mr. Irrelevant. Salata, who died in 2021, continued to announce the final pick each year until 2013, when Melanie, his daughter, took over.
“It proves that Dad wasn’t a marketing guy,” Fitch said. “His idea was that it was irrelevant that a player was picked last. He should have called him Mr. Relevant, so we’ve had to work hard to explain that, although in some ways it makes more sense.”
The misnomer was the only hurdle in Year One. Salata, who worked in construction and real estate after football, invited Kirk out to Newport Beach, Calif., for a few days of post-draft, pre-training camp fun and relaxation. When Kirk’s flight was delayed, Salata recruited the local butcher to act as the player during an introductory press conference. Kirk arrived half way through, and Salata simply made a joke then replaced one beefy guy at the podium with another. “Everyone just rolled with it,” Fitch said.
From those humble beginnings, Irrelevant Week has become an annual tradition that draws local crowds and wide-ranging media coverage. The events have evolved to include a beach party, a trip to Disneyland (just like those Super Bowl winners), a pub crawl and the Lowsman Banquet—a sort of anti-Heisman awards ceremony, which for the last few years has been hosted by ESPN’s John Anderson.
According to Fitch, a 20-person committee of volunteers do all the planning, with another 40 volunteers and three interns chipping in during the final month and the big week. The operation’s office, phones and utilities are all covered by donations and all the banquet speakers work free. A bevy of area businesses donate everything from rooms and meals to day trips and gifts for the celebrant. (Purdy got a Niners-themed surfboard, among other things.)
The sponsors also buy tables at the banquet, which can run to $10,000. Individual tickets go for $250, and there’s a silent auction. Irrelevant Week has been a 501c3 organization since 2013, and the banquet money goes to charity while the rest of the week’s events are free to attend. “For the beach party, we invite kids from the city and just have a good time,” Fitch said.
During his week, Purdy showed off the traits that have served him well on the field, Fitch said. Player perks include the possibility to meet a star of their choosing. Past requests have included Kobe Bryant, Will Ferrell and Halle Berry. One aspiring NFLer even got himself a date with Hugh Hefner and a warren of his female acquaintances. The ever-grounded Purdy instead opted to have his family join him, including his parents, his sister and his maternal grandparents, who live a short drive from Newport Beach. (His brother, Chubba, a quarterback at Nebraska, couldn’t get out of practice.)
He also showed off his poise, gamely participating in silliness that ranged from reading cue cards for the fake hemorrhoids ad to “throwing” a pizza to playing catch with the mascot at Knott’s Berry Farm. On the semi-serious side, he kept his cool during an offshore sailing race on a rough and windy day that grew more intense than an ordinary day cruise.
The most significant of the Mr. Irrelevants to date might be kicker Ryan Succop. Selected 256th by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, he set a rookie record for accuracy (86%), and has been a starter ever since, scoring more than 1,100 career points and winning a Super Bowl in 2021 with his current team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An even greater success might have been Jimmy Walker, who was picked last in the 1967 draft by the New Orleans Saints. Walker never suited up in Nola, but he played 11 years in the NBA, where he was the first overall pick and twice an All-Star. He had a son who had some success, too: Jalen Rose.
Purdy might outdo them all. Even before his Tom Brady-like rise to the top of the Niners depth chart, he had an impact off the field. “I’m not sure if it’s because there are a lot of 49ers fans around or what, but we had a lot participation this year,” Fitch said. “The banquet was oversold, and I had to scrounge up extra seats.” That pushed 2022 donations close to $100,000, one of the event’s highest totals.
Every time he plays—seemingly every time every talking head on TV shouts about him—his reign of Irrelevance arises, spreading the name far and wide. “We’ve definitely seen more interest from sponsors already,” Fitch said. “There’s a lot of companies out there that want to be associated with perseverance and hard work and championing the underdog.”