There was Captain Kirk, whose reputation spans the star dates. Then there was Kelvin Kirk, the Steelers draft pick who found a world where no man had gone before.
Kelvin Kirk is the ultimate “Mr. Irrelevant,” the ornery title bestowed on the last player chosen in each draft.
A wide receiver from Dayton, Kirk went to Pittsburgh with the 487th selection of the 1976 draft. It was the most picks ever in a draft. He was the first “Mr. Irrelevant.”
A former actor and football player named Paul Salata dreamed up the “award” in advance of the 1976 draft. Most football fans had heard of the early picks, among them Mike Pruitt, who went to the Browns, and a couple of Ohio State guys, Archie Griffin and Tim Fox.
Kirk was fairly well known in southwestern Ohio. Wearing No. 85 as a Dayton Flyers senior, he averaged 24 yards per catch on a team that beat the Akron Zips 31-9.
The Flyers didn’t pass much. Kirk made only 26 catches. When he dropped all the way to the end of the draft, Salata arranged to fly him to Newport, Beach, Calif., for a spoof-fest including a parade, parties, gifts and celebrities.
Salata dreamed up “Mr. Irrelevant” from his background as a low draft pick of the Steelers in the 1950s and Hollywood connections based on appearing in films.
One of Salata’s roles was as a stunt double for Charlton Heston as Moses in ‘The Ten Commandments.” Funny parallel: When initial flight plans to get Kirk to Newport Beach fell through, a temporary double had to be found. Events had been scheduled. A young local butcher with an athletic build was recruited to fill in as Kirk.
The butcher was hurried to the airport, where he was led to a crowd that greeted the first Mr. Irrelevant and rode away in a convertible. Eventually a flight carrying Kirk landed. A switcheroo was pulled in time to get him in most of the scheduled events.
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Kirk never played for the Steelers but did make a run in the CFL. He remained in Canada as a newspaper artist in Ottawa. He was 49 when he died of an apparent heart attack while playing pick-up basketball in 2003.
Kelvin Kirk’s name popped up during research for a series on the various positions held by the Browns for the 2021 draft, which includes far fewer picks than in the old days, but more than in any draft since 2003.
The Browns’ final pick, at No. 257 overall, almost was “good enough” for “Mr. Irrelevant” to be presented in the home of the 2021 draft, Cleveland, as a Brown. Instead, the distinction goes to Tampa Bay at pick No. 259. Maybe the Browns should trade down.
As it stands, Cleveland’s final two picks are at No. 211 and No. 257, spots for dreamers.
Everybody knows Tom Brady was a No. 199 pick in 2000, but it is worth a reminder that Hall of Fame QB Bart Starr (Alabama/Packers, No. 200, 1956) was overlooked even longer in his draft. Hall of Famers who came from the vicinity of the Browns’ final 2021 picks include Raymond Berry (No. 232, SMU/Colts, 1954), Chris Hanburger (No. 245, North Carolina/Washington, 1965), Richard Dent (No. 203, Tennessee State/Bears, 1983) and Terrell Davis (No. 196, Georgia/Broncos, 1995).
The pot-luck nature later picks is reflected by the fact a fair number of great pros never even got drafted.
James Harrison, undrafted out of Kent State in 2002, was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, with Pittsburgh.
Donnie Shell, who will be honored in Canton this summer as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020, joined the Steelers as an undrafted rookie in 1974.
Antonio Gates, the former Kent State basketball star likely headed for the Pro Football Hall of Famer, went undrafted in 2004.
Kurt Warner, the former undrafted quarterback who was bypassed by Cleveland in the 1999 expansion draft, found his way to Canton.
For now, the players scheduled to be picked at 211 and 257 will try to stick around in Cleveland. In the final installment of a series, here is a perspective on what history has produced way down there.
Browns pick at No. 211
Notable No. 211s: QB Kent Graham (Ohio State/Giants, 1992) was an opening-day starter for the Cardinals in 1997, the Giants in 1998 and ’99, and the Steelers in 2000. … WR David Tyree (Syracuse/Giants, 2003) made the circus catch in Super Bowl XLII that kept New England from a 19-0 season. Tyree had a six-year pro career in which he totaled 650 regular-season receiving yards. … RB-FB Chris Ogbonnaya (Rams, 2009) spent four of his six NFL seasons with the Browns.
Last three No. 211s: DB Isaiah Rodgers (Massachusetts/Colts), 2020) returned a kickoff 101 yards against the Browns in Game 5 and averaged 28.8 yards on 24 chances. … Rodney Anderson (Oklahoma/Bengals, 2019) spent his rookie year on injured reserve and was cut during the 2020 preseason. … Tight end Jordan Thomas (Mississippi State/Texans, 2018) started 10 games as a rookie and scored two TDs in a Thursday night game. He was cut last September.
Four-year report: UCLA offensive lineman Conor McDermott went to the Patriots at No. 211 in 2017. He was cut as a rookie and has never played in a regular-season game, although he is on the Jets’ 2021 spring roster.
Five-year report: The 49ers spent the 211th pick on Florida RB Kelvin Taylor in 2016. The son of former NFL star Fred Taylor made the practice squad out of training camp but soon was released. He was brought in by four other teams, including the Browns in 2018, but never got in a regular-season game.
Some Browns in the 2011 neighborhood: G Tom Goosby (No. 207, 1962) played at Alliance and Baldwin-Wallace prior to an unusual NFL career that included just one game with the Browns but 14 games in 1966 with a Washington team coached by Otto Graham. … RB Larry Poole (No. 213, 1975) played at Akron Garfield and Kent State before a three-year run in Cleveland, which included a 52-carry, 243-yard awakening during a four-game win streak in 1976. … Expansion-era picks: RB Madre Hill (No. 207, 1999); OL Brad Bedell (No. 206, 2000); RB Adimchinobe Echemandu (No. 208, 2004); DE Chase Pittman (No. 213, 2007); DL Billy Winn (No. 205, 2012).
More:Browns Draft Revue: Once upon a time, No. 159 was Miami Dolphins’ perfect pick, Super Bowl MVP
Notbable No. 257s: RB Merv Rettenmund (Ball State/Cowboys, 1965) never reported to Dallas, instead turning to a baseball career that got him World Series rings with three different teams. … Bonus picks have made this year’s draft longer than usual. The No. 257 pick hasn’t existed since 2003.
Notable Browns picked after 257: DB Ben Davis (No. 439, 1967) spent seven seasons in Cleveland, making eight interceptions for the 1968 team that reached the NFL finals. … QB Brian Sipe (No. 330, 1972) went 57-55 as Cleveland’s starting quarterback, including 11-5 in 1980, when he was league MVP. … LB Dick Ambrose (No. 290, 1975) played 116 games for the Browns, becoming known as “Bam Bam.” … RB Earnest Byner (No. 280, 1984) appeared in 13 postseason games aside from the one known for “The Fumble,” during an NFL career spanning 14 seasons.
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