Enjoying Irrelevant Week festivities after their respective drafts are new Cardinals quarterback Chandler Harnish (left) in 2012 after the Colts took him, and one-time Cardinals tight end Tevita Ofanhengaue (photos courtesy of the Daily Pilot and Orange County Register, via The Undefeated.)
When Chandler Harnish was picked by the Colts in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, the Indiana native was ecstatic to go to his hometown team.
The moment was so nice he didn't realize until later where he was chosen – No. 253 overall in a draft of 253 players. As a small-school quarterback, Harnish left Northern Illinois without the name recognition of other college stars. As the last selection of the NFL draft, he was now officially Mr. Irrelevant.
"When it happened, I was just so happy to get drafted," said Harnish, who the Cardinals signed as a free agent in March. "I kind of knew about Mr. Irrelevant. I knew it was the last pick, and there were always rumors he got a free car or something."
There wasn't a car. But there was a parade and gifts involved, a celebration that comes to the yearly Mr. Irrelevant – whom the
Cardinals will be selecting in this year's draft, thanks to their seventh-round compensatory pick that gave them the 256th and final selection of the 2015 draft. Harnish will have an "Irrevelant" teammate Saturday.
It's the second time the Cardinals will have chosen Mr. Irrelevant. In 2001, the team drafted tight end Tevita Ofahengaue out of Brigham Young.
Paul Salata, a former NFL safety and a Los Angeles businessman, started Irrelevant Week in 1976 to recognize the perseverance shown by the final player chosen in the draft. While the selection was previously just a footnote, Salata's quest to celebrate the underdog took off. The Mr. Irrelevant title became so coveted the Rams and Steelers both tried passing on their picks in the 1979 draft to have the final selection. The 'Salata Rule' was put into effect, prohibiting teams from passing to get the final pick.
Salata, 88, is still involved in Irrelevant Week, although much of the process is now handled by his daughter, Melanie Fitch. She was the one who talked to Harnish in 2012, getting to know him and what his interests were.
In July, Harnish and his family received a free vacation to Southern California. There was a parade in his honor, a banquet and gifts. He was the recipient of the Lowsman Trophy – a plaque with a resemblance to the Heisman Trophy, only of a player fumbling a ball – and the featured guest at the "banquet."
"If you saw the Justin Bieber roast recently, it's kind of like that," Harnish said. "They make fun of you for getting drafted but as the last pick. I grew up on a farm so they had a bunch of jokes about that. They joked about my name, like 'What is Chandler? Nobody's ever heard of that before.'"
This year's Mr. Irrelevant – it's guaranteed to be a Cardinal because the team cannot trade the pick – will arrive in Newport Beach on Tuesday, July 7 and be whisked to a barbecue on the beach. He will go to Disneyland on Wednesday, on a sunset sail Thursday, enjoy
the beach and a banquet Friday and play in a flag football game on Saturday.
There's also plenty of room for adjustment if the player's tastes don't jive with the scheduled activities. Some past Mr. Irrelevants have been movie buffs, so The Undefeated – the charitable foundation which runs Irrelevant Week – has set up meetings with Will Ferrell and Halle Berry.
"It gravitates to their interest," Fitch said. "Some of them have never seen the ocean so they want to go out to the ocean. Some of them have never seen the ocean and they don't want to because they've seen the movie 'Jaws.'
"We're doing as much due diligence now as we can. We start full production in January, to get the venues. We will talk to him from the floor (at the draft) and get a sampling of an idea. Is he married? Where is he from?"
Back in 2001, a Mr. Irrelevant was allowed to bring friends and family with all expenses paid for Irrelevant Week. Ofanhengaue, who was already married with kids, took full advantage.
"The kingdom of Tonga," Fitch said. "He brought 62 people. Like, really? We need 25 hotel rooms. Out of the 62 people that came, there were some bigger people. They had a great time, but after that, we had to limit it to being responsible for one guest. Anyone can come, but we're not going to do the housing."
Many Mr. Irrelevants have had short careers – it's naturally harder for seventh-round picks to stick in the NFL – but Harnish, Rams tight end Justice Cunningham, Texans safety Lonnie Ballentine and Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop are currently on rosters. Quarterback Bill Kenney was Mr. Irrelevant in 1978 and made a Pro Bowl in 1984.
It's impossible to say how this year's Mr. Irrelevant will fare on the football field with the Cardinals, but his life as a professional will get off to a roaring start in Newport Beach.
"We always design the arrival," Fitch said. "One guy we brought him in on a rocket launcher. Another guy we had by the water, bringing him on the top of a huge plastic whale. When we had Justice Cunningham (in 2013), we had him lead a horse in – a white colt with a blue blanket cover on him. You're going to the Colts, so here's your colt. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with the Cardinal."
Harnish was with Indianapolis when they drafted Cunningham and was able to share his experience. He will do the same next week with the Cardinals' Mr. Irrelevant.
"I think there are only 38-to-40 Mr. Irrelevants while there's 70-something Heisman Trophy winners," said Harnish, who still remains in touch with Fitch. "So there's fewer Mr. Irrelevants. We think of us as a fraternity. It turned out to be a phenomenal experience."
Images of the best players chosen by the Cardinals since their move to Arizona in 1988