Legacy Handoff Irrelevant Week Founder Looks To Pass On NFL Institution SHERRI CRUZ Monday, February 22, 2010 Most

know Salata as the founder of Irrelevant Week, a celebration of the final pick in the National Football League’s yearly draft. Salata came up with Irrelevant Week and sold then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle on the idea 35 years ago. Now every April, Salata goes on national TV to announce the last NFL draft pick, who is dubbed Mr. Irrelevant. The designation isn’t meant as a slight. The player is called Mr. Irrelevant because it’s irrelevant where he placed in the draft, according to Salata. “There are only a few hundred picked out of thousands. He’s achieved,” said Salata, who wasn’t drafted to start his football career in the now defunct All-America Football Conference but later was a 10th-round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Salata, who started playing for the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts, relates to underdogs. He never was the star player, though he had his moments. “I sat on enough benches to understand it’s kind of lonely there,” Salata said.

The son of Serbian immigrants and one of seven boys, Salata overcame an impoverished upbringing in East Los Angeles and went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. Even in the height of his football career, Salata worked odd jobs and stashed his money. Then he started a few businesses, bought and sold real estate and made it to Newport Beach. Melanie Salata Fitch, Salata’s daughter, now runs Irrelevant Week. She follows up the draft pick announcement with a call congratulating Mr. Irrelevant and finds out what he might like to do during his week of celebration in June. The pick always comes to Newport Beach and is honored in a series of events. Some are lighthearted—he gets to sit on a throne (a lifeguard tower) and receive the Lowsman Trophy, a play on the Heisman Trophy. Mr. Irrelevant usually gets in a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game, a trip to Disneyland and a banquet in his honor. Last Year’s Honoree 2009’s Mr. Irrelevant was Ryan Succop, kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. He wanted to learn how to surf. So Fitch arranged for a day of beach volleyball and surf lessons. Salata thinks of Irrelevant Week as a random act of kindness. “Doing something nice for no reason is something that appeals to

Paul,” said Homer Bludau, retired Newport Beach city manager and Irrelevant Week advisory board member. “He grew up as an underdog. It kind of mirrors his life somewhat.” Irrelevant Week donates to local charities through event ticket sales. This year, it will support Goodwill Industries International Inc.’s fitness center in Santa Ana. Goodwill appeals to Salata because the nonprofit hires people who’ve been on welfare. Irrelevant Week has raised about $1 million through the years for various local charities. Salata now is planning to hand over Irrelevant Week, which has become an institution where everyone plays along, including the media. “We finally got to that point—what happens when Paul and Melanie leave?” Salata said about himself and his daughter. The plan is to partner in some way with the NFL and to keep Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach. There have been two meetings with the NFL, one here and one in New York, according to Bludau. Salata and a lot of others want to make sure it stays around for a long time, said Bludau, who is filling in as temporary executive director while the group seeks a permanent one. He’s also helping to raise money this year. There isn’t much doubt that Irrelevant Week will live on. The

risk is it could be moved from Newport Beach, Bludau said. “The ball is in our court,” he said. “We need to show them that the community really supports this.” A transition could happen by next year, according to Salata. Making it bigger and better and keeping it in Newport Beach would honor Salata, Bludau said. “Paul deserves that,” he said. Making It in Newport Salata, 83, has a tight relationship with Newport Beach. For him, “making it” is living the Newport life, though he doesn’t have all the trappings of some of the city’s wealthiest. Salata has a home on Linda Isle in Newport Harbor he built decades ago. Instead of a yacht, he has a Duffy, a small electric boat for cruising around the harbor. Growing up poor made Salata frugal. His father died after his sixth brother was born. Salata’s mother and grandmother were left to care for the family. As the second eldest, Salata sold newspapers to support his siblings. At USC, he majored in business and played for the Trojans. He still supports USC in many ways.

“When I was in college, I thought if I ever got to $100 a week, game over,” Salata said. Playing football and a little baseball from 1949 to 1953, Salata earned as much as $12,000 a season, great money in those days. He even played in Canada for a while. Even during his sports heyday, Salata said he drove cheap cars and was reluctant to spend. “We had been poor for quite a while, so there is an appreciation factor there,” he said. “My father always said if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. I didn’t buy anything I didn’t need.” He also did small movie roles, including parts in “The Ten Commandments,” “Stalag 17” and “Singin’ In the Rain.” For a speaking part he made $55 a day. Additionally, he umpired and did other odd jobs. “The idea was to keep working,” he said. Once Salata retired from sports, he parlayed his football career into selling gravel at a Long Beach company. “Half the guys buying this stuff were football fans,” he said. Salata and his brothers went on to start their own company. The Salata brothers got into the business of laying down pipelines, roads and putting in storm drains.

Serbian immigrants are known for building, Fitch said. “They did that in the old country,” Salata said. He banked much of what he earned. “The main thing was not getting involved in borrowing,” he said. What landed Salata in Newport Beach—the city of his dreams— was real estate. He once bought 11 acres in San Juan Capistrano for $49,000 and sold it within a year for 10 times that. He was the only bidder when he bought the land. The property was in a flood plain, which kept other bidders away. “I was smart enough to know if you lifted the elevation of the lot two feet it would be out of it,” he said. Salata hired football coaches in their off time to help scout properties for him. “We used to double our money,” he said. Salata bought closed schools and sold them. He also bought trailer parks. He owns and manages about 40 parks in California. Not Just a Dream

Salata used to have a two-bedroom trailer on Dover Drive at Pacific Coast High-way in Newport Beach, where a Will Wright’s ice cream store used to be. It was where the Salata family spent summers and weekends when they lived in Pasadena. “We bought a leaky rowboat,” he said. They used to ogle as they rowed by John Wayne’s place, he said. But to really have made it, Salata didn’t want to just vacation in Newport Beach—he wanted to live there. He didn’t have a hard time convincing his wife or his children to move. “I got married to a girl who liked the beach,” he said. His first wife, Beverly, since has passed away. He met her at USC. “She was the tannest thing on campus,” Salata said. Salata leased and later bought his lot and built a home in 1967 on what used to be known as Shark Island for the sand sharks that used to swim there. Irvine Company renamed it Linda Isle after Linda Irvine, granddaughter of James Irvine II. These days, Irrelevant Week has become more important as

Salata gets it shaped up for a handover and he’s winding down his real estate ventures. “I’m less interested because we’re living pretty good now,” he said.

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