On this date, April 9, 1976, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected the very first Mr. Irrelevant.
After winning Super Bowl X over the Dallas Cowboys in January 1976, the Steelers had the final pick of what was to become the largest draft class in NFL history that April.
For the 1976 season, the NFL had expanded two teams to 28 with the addition of the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the 17-round draft that had been established in 1967 still in effect, that meant that 487 players were scheduled to be taken over two days at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, and the Steelers had the last pick.
Though the NFL Draft had been held annually since 1936, it was the bumper crop of players in 1976 that first had its last player honored as Mr. Irrelevant.
Paul Salata — who was drafted by the Steelers in the 10th round (out of 30) in the 1951 NFL Draft — had by then retired from his playing career, mostly spent with the San Francisco 49ers, and setting in California, working in construction.
Salata was an old friend of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, and convinced him to allow to create an aware to celebrate the underdog player taken at the very end of the draft. In addition to bestowing the title of Mr. Irreleveant, Salata had a jersey made up with the number of the selection and invited the draft pick to a party and a parade in Newport Beach, California and a trip to Disneyland.
When the Steelers drafted wide receiver Kelvin Kirk out of Dayton with the final pick, he became the very first Mr. Irrelevant. But he didn’t know it.
In fact, it took him quite some time to realize that Salata’s invitation to come crown the winner of a beauty pageant in California and meet Mickey Mouse, just for being the last pick in the draft, was completely legitimate.
“I really didn’t go there expecting none of things that happened,” Kirk said when he got to Steelers training camp at St. Vincent College that summer.
While Kirk became good-natured about his ironic draft status, he was determined to make an impact on the field to match that level of notoriety.
“I’m going to give it my best shot,” he said. “I’m pushing to make the team just like number one.”
It wasn’t to be. Kirk was cut by the Steelers at the end of training camp. But he did end up having a successful football career. After not finding another NFL job in the 1976 season, Kirk traveled north of the border, playing in the Canadian Football League in the summer of 1977 for the Toronto Argonauts.
Kirk spent seven seasons in the CFL, playing with Toronto, Calgary, Saskatchewan and Ottawa. He finished his career with over 6,500 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns.
Kirk stayed in Canada after his playing days, working as an artist for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper until his untimely death at age 49 in 2003. The Kelvin Kirk Legacy Foundation, part of the Ottawa Community Foundation, has been established in his honor to support the youth of the community.
Salata died in 2021, one day before his 95th birthday, but his family has kept up the tradition of ironically honoring the final pick of the NFL Draft.
The award was never more relevant than it was in 2022, when the San Francisco 49ers, Salata’s old team, selected quarterback Brock Purdy with the 262nd and final pick in the NFL Draft. After starter Trey Lance and backup Jimmy Garoppolo were both injured, Purdy led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game, before he, too was injured.
The Steelers have selected a few more Mr. Irrelevants (or is it Misters Irrelevant?). The team took wide receiver Mike Almond from Northwestern State in 1980 and guard Tyrone McGriff from Florida A&M in 1981. The introduction of compensatory draft picks since the start of free agency means that the Super Bowl winner no longer has the final overall selection. Current Steelers inside linebacker Tae Crowder was Mr. Irrelevant in 2020, when he was drafted by the New York Giants.
The Houston Texans are currently scheduled to have the final pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, at No. 259 overall.