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Until, oh, about eight weeks ago, the nickname Mr. Irrelevant — good-humoredly bestowed upon the player chosen 262nd and last in the NFL Draft each year — was highly accurate.
To the delight of Brock Purdy, and San Francisco 49ers fans, and those who love a rip-roaring underdog story, and especially a Newport Beach, California, charitable group that can barely believe what it’s seeing, the term is — this year at least — overwhelmingly wide of the mark.
Most football fans know what Mr. Irrelevant is without fully understanding what it involves.
Every year since 1976, Irrelevant Week has involved a series of events aimed at celebrating the guy picked at the tail end of the draft just as much as that season’s anointed No. 1 selection.
Purdy, who will this Sunday try to lead the 49ers into the Super Bowl when they visit the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship (3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), headed to the Orange County coastline last June, not entirely sure what to expect.
Monday featured paddling into the Pacific Ocean with members of the local crew team from the Newport Aquatic Center, then, that night, the Lowsman Banquet fundraiser — a parody on the Heisman.
On the Tuesday, he visited Knott’s Berry Farm and threw around a football with the theme park’s mascot, Mr. Whittles. Previous Mr. Irrelevants have been taken to Disneyland to give them the experience of a Super Bowl winner, but the historic themes at Knott’s around miners (and 49ers) made it too good an opportunity to pass up.
That night, Purdy threw around a baseball during warmups with players from the Los Angeles Angels and was a guest at their game against Kansas City, a particularly notable treat as his father Shawn was a pitcher who spent eight years in the minors.
Wednesday that week featured a trip to FOX Sports and a series of interviews, then a Newport Beach pub crawl where attendees were asked a series of Brock Purdy-themed trivia questions. Naturally, most of the answers given about the former Iowa State QB were wrong.
Brock Purdy visited FOX Sports as part of the festivities for Irrelevant Week last June. (Photo courtesy Jacob Ullman)
Things wound up Thursday with a surfing lesson from Australian legend Peter Townend, and active participation in a sailing regatta aboard a classic local racing boat, the Amante.
It was quite a schedule, and it has been quite a ride since. Purdy took over the starting job in December when Jimmy Garoppolo — who had already replaced the injured Trey Lance after Week 2 — himself encountered a season-ending foot problem.
Purdy immediately went on a tear and sits currently with a starting record of 7-0, keeping calm, minimizing errors, and setting up playmakers such as Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey. No rookie QB has ever taken his team to a Super Bowl, let alone won it. That the first one could be a Mr. Irrelevant? Almost too outlandish to make up.
“I don’t hate the term or anything like that,” Purdy said. “The people that we went and met are great. We still talk to them. What they do for different organizations and raising money, it’s for a great cause. I’m very thankful for how it all worked out.”
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The experience Purdy went through played a significant part in his perspective. After Irrelevant Week CEO Melanie Salata Fitch made the announcement of pick No. 262 on stage at the draft, she soon contacted Purdy. Her father, former NFL player Paul Salata, concocted the original idea decades ago and passed away in 2021, at age 94, but the good work continues with a team of willing volunteers.
Fitch asked Purdy what things he was most interested in doing and set up a program of festivities. Instead of requesting to meet a famous LA-area celebrity as many have in the past, Purdy instead politely requested whether his family could accompany him, which meant his parents, sister and grandparents all came along, but not his brother Chubba, who couldn’t get release from college football duties at Nebraska.
“Brock really wanted to learn to surf and to go sailing,” Fitch told me via telephone. “He knew that this wasn’t making fun of him, it was celebrating him. Every year we have guys come in, and we are always behind them. We want them to see that it is a great honor to be picked in the draft, whatever position it is.
“If we’re being honest, we don’t expect them to have this kind of success. It has been wonderful, and Brock has been amazing.”
The vast majority of final picks have an NFL experience that is brutally brief. In most cases, they’re not making it past training camp and go on to a variety of other jobs.
Ryan Succop (2009) has had a fine career as a kicker, and Jimmy Walker (1967) never played an NFL snap but was a two-time NBA All-Star — and Jalen Rose’s father.
Purdy, well, it has just been different. The 49ers have not missed a beat since he came in.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan, and especially Purdy’s new buddy Kittle, extol his virtues with regularity. There is at least a solid chance he is the team’s starting QB next year.
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Last summer, Purdy took part in an interview with FOX Sports editor Adam Maya, which offers insight into how he was thinking back then, when even the best-case scenario didn’t involve anything like what transpired.
“Cuts are going to happen, and that’s the reality,” Purdy said. “I want a job. I have been dreaming of this my whole life. If I try to think too far ahead and make things happen that are out of my control it will take away from my game. So that’s where my mindset is at, and I know the reality of it.”
The reality of it is that a battle to avoid being released turned into a fantasy beyond compare. That the 49ers are one game away from the Super Bowl with a rookie no one noticed installed under center.
And that Mr. Irrelevant is now, well, anything but.
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