SALT LAKE CITY — Tevita Ofahengaue wanted to know, first off, if I had Internet access.
“Google the Ofahengaue Rule,” he said on Tuesday. “Go ahead. Look it up.”
The caller from the “Mr. Irrelevant” committee had told him in 2001 to bring his family to celebrate being last of 246 players in the NFL Draft. So he brought all 62 of them to Newport Beach, pets not included. They occupied much of two floors of the hotel and plenty of airplane seats.
“Limousine service, rooms, food, plane tickets, keys to the city, it was a good deal,” Ofahengaue said.
So good, in fact, that the next year the Ofahengaue Rule was instituted: one guest only.
When the 2013 draft commences on Thursday — and when it concludes — Ofahengaue will be watching with more than passing interest. The first pick will be intriguing. But the last pick? Booyah!
“The name is catchy, but the meaning is not really irrelevant,” Ofahengaue said. “Trust me, whoever is Mr. Relevant, or whoever is the guy who is (picked) before me — we all got the same signing bonuses. But my wife got diamond earrings and a necklace worth $10,000 and I got a down (payment) on a Suburban.”
Framed art, electronic equipment, computers …
“Nonstop gifts,” he said. “A room full of stuff. A lot of people would be against being [Mr. Irrelevant], they say you don’t want to be embarrassed, but if they know my background, and how far I’ve come …”
From teenage dad to college football star to NFL draft pick.
“This whole Mr. Irrelevant thing, it’s on my (Twitter) hashtags, Facebook, my signature is Mr. Irrelevant,” he said. “I sat out doing nothing for five years. I walked on at BYU. My whole story is irrelevant.”
Yet in another sense, it’s as relevant as they come.
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When the Arizona Cardinals did call, he thought it was a joke. Ofahengaue, who by then had four kids, had watched until the seventh round, without hearing his name. Finally he shut off the TV.
Teams had tantalized him, saying his name would come up, but mostly they were keeping him on the hook as a potential free agent.
A friend from Arizona had phoned earlier in the day, pretending to be a Cardinals executive. So when the call really did come, Ofahengaue laughed and rolled his eyes.
Who wouldn’t be skeptical? In 1991 he was a 16-year-old father in Hawaii, with no plans to attend college. The next year he moved to Dallas and took a job working as an airline baggage handler. Had fate not intervened, he might still be there.
Five years after high school he had flown back to Hawaii and run into Itula Mili, the BYU tight end who was a high school teammate. Mili told him he should walk on at BYU and play the position, though he had been a defensive player in high school.
Mili began whispering in the ear of BYU assistant coach Norm Chow that he had a successor picked out, an ex-teammate from Hawaii. Soon Ofahengaue was on the team. That alone was bigger than he had imagined. His mother had begged him to attend college, but he hadn’t considered it until Mili intervened. He was awarded a scholarship for his sophomore season.
“That was the irrelevant part,” he said. “I just wanted to wear a uniform, just run out and see 65,000 people go aaaaaah! My first goal was just to wear a uniform and make my family proud, just have my name on a jersey, even if I didn’t play.”
But play he did.
Despite being nearly 26, Ofahengaue was one of two BYU players drafted in 2001, the other being kicker Owen Pochman, also a seventh-round pick.
Irrelevancy had become his favorite word.
The plane landed at Orange County and the captain thanked the NFL’s 2001 Mr. Irrelevancy over the loudspeakers for flying with them. Passengers cheered the announcement. When Ofahengaue deplaned, Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice was there to greet him.
A limousine took the family — by then up to four kids — to the hotel. Soon extended family members began arriving, many from the Islands, others from Utah and California. Some drove to Newport Beach from Los Angeles and but didn't stay overnight.
By the time the Disneyland trip arrived, his entourage totaled 130.
Ofahengaue’s mother was so grateful she made leis for 100 dignitaries who attended the award ceremony.
The “Irrelevant” designation began in 1976 at the behest of Paul Salata, a businessman, philanthropist, actor and former NFL player. He saw the award as a way to humorously raise funds for charities. Among the winners since then were Cam Quayle (1998) and Tim Toone of Weber State (2010). A few even thrived. Jim Finn (1999) became a starter for the New York Giants and David Vobora (2008) became a starting linebacker in St. Louis.
But largely the title has gone to players who didn’t last. Ofahengaue reported to Arizona but was cut, then released by Jacksonville. He never played a regular-season game.
Though there were feelers from other teams, he had decided it was time to return to his family in Utah. He again worked for an airline and spent a year coordinating recruiting for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. Later he started a foster program that provides placement homes for troubled youth.
He has seven kids, including an LDS missionary, a daughter who is a youth football star, and Moana, a freshman defensive lineman at Utah.
Like his prior life, obstacles still crop up. In 2011 he and ex-Cougar Reno Mahe were named in a case involving gasoline theft at a concrete cutting business in the Salt Lake area. The former players said they were offered free fuel by a company employee, but never told he didn’t have permission. Ofahengaue entered a guilty plea in abeyance to a third-degree felony charge in 2012 and was ordered to pay a $850 in fees and $1,590 in restitution. If he has no further violations of the law, the case will be wiped from his record this year.
On the other hand, his connection to football will be on the books forever. That’s fine by him. Friends still call him by his long-ago moniker. His Facebook profile details his draft selection and his wife drives a BMW with “Mrs. Irrelevant” on the plate frame.
“I’m going to live with that name the rest of my life,” he said.
Maybe the 2013 “Irrelevant” winner will be discouraged, embarrassed or disappointed. Not Ofahengaue. Asked what advice he would give to the final pick this year, he said, “Be grateful. And make the rest of us irrelevant guys proud.”
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