NEW YORK — Michael Sam waited and waited. Hours passed, rounds came and went, and eventually, there were only eight more selections left on the final day of the NFL draft.
For just a moment, it looked as if his chance of being picked by a pro team and becoming the league’s first openly gay player might take a detour. Or at least be delayed.
The call finally came in Saturday from the St. Louis Rams, the team right down the road from where Sam played his college ball at Missouri.
Sam was selected in the seventh and final round and admitted it was a frustrating wait. He said teams that passed on him chickened out and he should have been drafted sooner.
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“From last season alone, I should’ve been in the first three rounds. SEC defensive player of the year, all-American,” Sam said.
He stopped short of directly saying his stock dropped because he came out.
“You know what, who knows? Who knows? Only the people who sit in the war room know,” he said. “They saw Michael Sam, day after day they scratched it off the board. That was their loss. But St. Louis kept me on that board. And you know what I feel like I’m a (Jadeveon) Clowney, a first draft pick. I’m proud of where I am now.”
Sam came out as gay in media interviews earlier this year. His team and coaches knew his secret and kept it for his final college season. He went on to have the best year of his career. He was the co-defensive player of the year in the nation’s best league and had 11.5 sacks.
When Mike Kensil, the NFL’s vice president of game operations, walked to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the draft’s final minutes to announce the Rams’ second-to-last pick, the crowd got a sense something was up. Very few of the last day picks were announced at the podium. Twitter lit up with suggestions the Rams were about to make news.
When Kensil said: “The St. Louis Rams select … Michael Sam…” fans gave a hearty cheer, chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and “Michael Sam!”
Sam was in San Diego watching with friends and family at the home of his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes. Sam was on the phone bending over, with his boyfriend hugging him and rubbing his left bicep. When Sam got off the phone, the tears started. He gave his boyfriend a big kiss and a long hug as he cried and his eyes reddened. After, they shared cake — and another kiss.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam was considered a mid-to late-round selection, far from a sure thing to be drafted. He played defensive end in college, but he’s short for that position in the NFL and slower than most outside linebackers, the position he’ll need to transition to at the professional level.
He was taken with the 249th overall pick out of 256. Players from Marist, Maine and McGill University in Canada were selected before Sam.
“In the world of diversity we live in now, I’m honored to be a part of this,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.
“It took a guy with raw courage to stand up,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
“That guy is like family to me,” former MU tight end Eric Waters said. “I’ve lived with him for a year now, and he’s a great guy. I wish him the best and I’m so proud of him. … I wanted it (to get drafted) more for him than I did for myself, so I really want to say congratulations to him. He deserves it. He’s a hard worker, and he really deserves the opportunity.”
Now that he’s there, it could be seen as an opportunity for the NFL to show that crass locker room culture is not as prevalent as it might have looked to those who followed the embarrassing Dolphins scandal. But all the reaction to Sam’s news wasn’t positive.
Miami safety Don Jones posted a one-word tweet, “Horrible” shortly after Sam was drafted. It was later taken down.
“I was disappointed in those comments,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. “That’s not what we stand for as an organization. … We’re going to sit down with Don Jones and address (the tweet) appropriately.”
SEC QBs go late
It took a few hours on the final day of the NFL draft for A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger to finally hear their names called. Now, the star quarterbacks of the SEC will all be long shots to become early starters in the pros.
McCarron led Alabama to two national titles, but had to wait until the 164th overall spot to be selected by Cincinnati. Georgia’s Murray went one pick earlier Saturday to Kansas City. Louisiana State’s Mettenberger didn’t go until the sixth round, to Tennessee.
McCarron expects to learn behind Andy Dalton, who led the Bengals to three consecutive playoff berths.
“I’m confident in myself, but at the same time, I know Andy’s the QB out there and I respect that,” McCarron said. “All I want to do is go in and help us in whatever way I can. If that means me holding the clipboard for a couple of years and giving Andy reports during the week and watching film with him and helping him in any way I can, I’m just ready to do it.”
James a big fan
Once Johnny Manziel didn’t go to his favorite team, the Cowboys, LeBron James figured the destination was his old city. And if Johnny Football needs someone to catch passes in Cleveland, how about King James?
“Yeah, that’s possible,” James said Saturday with a smile. “Waiting for the ruling. That could be one of the problems, and we’ll see what happens with that.”
James was an all-state receiver at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, but he will be busy with his real job as an NBA superstar during football season.
But he’ll be paying close attention to what Manziel does with the Browns, not only as an Ohio native, but because Manziel has signed with LRMR and Maverick Carter, the longtime friend and associate of James.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he didn’t pass on Manziel because he thinks the flashy Heisman Trophy winner will be a bust.
Quite the opposite.
“He’s got a chance to knock it out of the park and we all know that,” he said.
Even with that high praise, Jones reiterated he didn’t think Manziel could beat out starter Tony Romo.
“He’s Elvis Presley,” Jones said of Manziel.
And the Cowboys owner basically said there’s no room for two celebrities under center in Dallas.
“There’s just too much dynamic here for him, for the franchise, for everybody,” Jones said.
• Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine is Mr. Irrelevant, taken by the Texans with the final pick. The 6-foot-3, 219-pound Ballentine had 58 tackles last season for the Tigers.
• For the first time since 1938, no Texas Longhorn players were drafted, and it’s a big reason why the Big 12’s total number of drafted players hit a low of 17.