Jake Delhomme, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner have all played in Pro Bowls, and all three are currently making millions to play a kid’s game. Warner and Delhomme each played on the world’s biggest stage, the Super Bowl, while Romo had to settle for dating Jessica Simpson.
But of all the thrills they have had in their careers, none of the three experienced what former John Carroll University quarterback Larry Wanke and 256 collegiate players will feel this weekend. By late Sunday night, 256 dreams will be realized when athletes receive a telephone call from the NFL telling them that they have been drafted.
This year, the 256th and final pick belongs to the Kansas City Chiefs. Not long after that player is selected by the Chiefs, he’ll receive a call from former NFL wide receiver Paul Salata asking the young man to come out to Newport Beach, Calif. to participate in the annual ‘Irrelevant Week.’
Each year, as the tradition goes, the last player selected affectionately receives the title of ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ and is invited with his family to go out to California to be “honored” for being the last player selected.
Wanke received that call in 1991 when the New York Giants selected him as the final pick of the draft, selection number 334, some 201 picks after the Atlanta Falcons drafted some guy from a small school named Brett Favre.
“When I got the call about being Mr. Irrelevant, I thought it was one of my friends’ dads that was pulling my leg, and I kept waiting for the punchline that never came.”
That trip to California was just another stop along the way in the Wanke’s football career.
It all started at nearby Benedictine High School where Wanke’s performance earned him a scholarship to play collegiality at the University of Pittsburgh.
After red-shirting for a season and being a back-up for two seasons, a frustrated Wanke decided to transfer.
“I was frustrated and thought I should be out on the field playing,” said Wanke. “I basically decided that I just wanted to have fun playing football again, so I decided to transfer back home to either Baldwin-Wallace or John Carroll.”
Wanke chose John Carroll University because of his friendship with Jimmy Flynn, a member of the Blue Streaks football team.
When he arrived for practice, Wanke noticed how much smaller the players were and how the speed of the game was much different than what he saw at Pittsburgh, but he also noticed one thing he thought was very important: Everyone on the field genuinely wanted to be there and was having a great time.
The positive attitude and strong desire to win, coupled with a Division I talent such as Wanke resulted in the Blue Streaks making the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in school history in 1989.
Wanke would go on to compile a 17-4 record as a starter at JCU while setting 16 school records in his two seasons under center, earning him induction into the JCU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Most of all, his time in University Heights gave Wanke a realistic chance at realizing his dream: Playing in the NFL.
Sports Illustrated called Wanke “the best small-college player in the land” and NFL scouts made the trip to University Heights to watch him workout.
Many thought that the small-college player had what it takes to play in the NFL, so on Draft Day 1991, Wanke’s phone began to ring.
He first spoke to his hometown Cleveland Browns who offered him a chance to tryout for the team as an undrafted free agent, and moments later Wanke received a call from the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants.
“The guy from the Giants was Jim Fassel, who was the quarterbacks coach at the time, and he asked if I would be willing to come to camp as an undrafted free agent as well.”
Already having an offer from the Browns, Wanke told the truth.
“Very candidly, I told the Giants that I already had the same offer from the Browns, and if it came down to it, I would go to camp with them.”
Fassel was determined to give Wanke a look, so he pushed for the Giants to draft him.
Wanke received the call from the Giants not long thereafter telling him he had been selected in the draft, and his dream was realized.
He never made the team, as the Giants already had Phil Simms and Jeff Hostettler on their loaded roster, but he’s still the last quarterback from the Division III level to be drafted.
He is now a real estate agent in the area, and 18 years later, his “irrelevant” NFL career is still talked about.
“People bring up ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ all the time,” Wanke said. “It comes up during business.”
He made it there, in large part, because of his relevant stop at JCU.