Harnish, a Mr. Irrelevant, chasing dream

Chandler Harnish found that being “Mr. Irrelevant” in the draft can be a fun time, and he’s chasing his dream of with a positive attitude.

When the Vikings played the Green Bay Packers last week and Teddy Bridgewater was inactive, Christian Ponder’s backup was an unfamiliar name to many Vikings fans – Chandler Harnish. But, they were familiar with a moniker he picked up in 2012 – Mr. Irrelevant.

At first blush, it would seem that the bestowing of that nickname – given to the last player drafted in a given season – was more of an insult than anything else. To be irrelevant is to be inconsequential and valueless. But when Harnish heard his name called on the final day of the 2012 draft by the founder of the Mr. Irrelevant celebration, Paul Salata, he couldn’t have been happier.

“To be quite honest, I was stoked,” Harnish said. “I was so excited just to get drafted, because that was my dream. I was a little frustrated that it got to that point (in the draft), but nobody remembers who was the second to last player drafted.”

The tongue-in-cheek stigma of being called Mr. Irrelevant can be perceived as insulting, but the week of celebratory events in Newport Beach Calif., which has been running since 1976, includes a golf tournament, a regatta, a banquet honoring the annual recipient and a trophy – likened after the Heisman Trophy, but depicts a player fumbling a football.

Harnish didn’t know what to expect when he arrived. All he knew was that he was getting an expenses-paid trip to Cali and was pleasantly surprised by the opulence of his surroundings and the special bond that the players have with the community during the week of events. With the exception of the banquet, they’re treated almost like royalty.

“A lot of people make fun of it and make jokes, but it’s really a neat thing,” Harnish said. “You get to take your family to California and have a free week’s vacation in Newport Beach. They have a parade in your honor. They have a banquet and give you a bunch of gifts. There is some joking that goes on – it’s kind of a roast at the banquet – but it’s all in good fun. I was just so happy and proud to achieve a dream by getting drafted.”

Harnish didn’t know much about Mr. Irrelevant other than hearing it mentioned at the end of each draft. He also felt he had good reason not to give it much thought, because he expected he would go in the fifth or sixth round of the 2012 draft. So when the mantle of Mr. Irrelevant fell to him, he didn’t know what to think. It turned out to be an experience he will never forget and is honored to have participated in.

“In the past I had never paid much attention to it,” Harnish said. “You knew there was always some fun little gag gift they did with it, but when it actually happens to you – the odds are so stacked against you – it’s a really neat experience.

“They have a whole organization called the Irrelevant League,” Harnish added. “They embrace you. They take you in as one of their own and roll out the red carpet. They’re trying to give a little notoriety to someone who doesn’t typically get it. It was just really a cool experience.”

One of the primary reasons why Harnish didn’t believe he would be Mr. Irrelevant wasn’t because he was upset for dropping farther than he thought he would. It was because of the team that had the last pick – the Indianapolis Colts, who had already selected their quarterback of the future with the first pick of the draft almost 48 hours earlier.

“When it got to that last pick, I didn’t think it was going to be me,” Harnish said. “When I got the call from Indianapolis, I was shocked because the Colts had used the first pick of that draft on Andrew Luck. I was so excited to get drafted, but when it came down to that pick, I didn’t think they would take a quarterback, because they had used the first pick to take a franchise guy.”

In his three seasons looking to find a permanent home in the NFL, Harnish has attempted to master the playbooks of three different offensive coordinators. As he looks to make the Minnesota Vikings a long-term landing spot, he’s looking forward to working under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

During the 2012 draft, Turner, who at the time was the San Diego Chargers’ head coach, relayed through the Chargers to Harnish’s agent that he liked him enough that if he was around after the draft, San Diego would make a push to sign him. That didn’t happen because the Colts made him Mr. Irrelevant, but he feels like the last two-and-a-half years have been as valuable a learning experience as he could receive in his NFL apprenticeship because he has learned from some of the best and seen how offensive schemes can travel from one team to another.

“A lot of offensive material throughout football is something that has been borrowed from other people,” Harnish said. “I’ve learned a lot from each coach and I think it has helped make me a more complete player. To say that you’ve played in Bruce Arians’ offense and Pep Hamilton’s and Norv Turner’s, I think it brings some credibility to your stock.”

Harnish is still chasing his NFL dream and has learned the ups and downs of life on the bubble in the NFL. He made the Colts’ 53-man roster in 2012, but was cut after five games. Two days later, he was re-signed to the practice squad. Last year, he was among the final cuts in Indianapolis and spent another year on the practice squad.

This year, he was thought to be a frontrunner to be Luck’s backup but was released Aug. 30. He was signed to the Vikings practice squad Sept. 29 and moved to the active roster last week to serve as Ponder’s backup. Last Friday, he was released again, but was re-signed Tuesday, replacing McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the practice squad.

Having career uncertainty used to bother Harnish, but he wants to be relevant in the NFL and is continuing to pursue his goal of being an NFL quarterback. He has his eyes on the prize and is willing to do what it takes to achieve it – even if it means living out of a suitcase without a fixed address.

“In the past, it’s been a stress,” Harnish said. “You feel a little anxiety, but I’ve learned to see it as a good thing. You can turn it into a healthy energy. It keeps you hungry. It makes you go out, compete and bring your ‘A’ game every single day. You don’t want to get to the point that it’s creating a performance anxiety that prevents you from doing well. It’s definitely a nomadic lifestyle, but it’s one I’m okay with because I’m chasing a dream.”

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