Paul Salata, the former USC football player who founded the Mr. Irrelevant Award to honor the last selection of the NFL Draft, died Saturday in Newport Beach, one day shy of his 95th birthday.

Salata died of natural causes, according to USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone.

Salata played on the Trojans football team in the mid-1940s and later in the NFL and CFL. He lettered at end for USC in 1944, 1946 and 1947, as the Trojans won league titles each year and played in the Rose Bowl in the 1944 and 1947 seasons. He caught a touchdown in USC’s 25-0 win over Tennessee in the Jan. 1, 1945 game. Salata missed the 1945 season while in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

He also lettered as an infielder on the 1948 Trojan baseball team that won the program*s first College World Series championship, Tessalone said.

After his playing days, he was a successful sewer contractor, a philanthropist and even had bit parts in several movies, including “Stalag 17,” “Angels in the Outfield” and “The Joker Is Wild.”

But his greatest claim to fame came when he created the Mr. Irrelevant Award in 1976, presented annually to the last overall pick in the NFL’s draft. The awardee was feted during Irrelevant Week activities in Orange County.

Salata is survived by his wife of 15 years, Carolyn, his son Bradley, his daughter Melanie Fitch (Edward III), his granddaughters Alix and Marie Fitch, his brother George and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by wife Beverly in 2003.

Services are pending.

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