NFL draft: St. Louis Rams pick Michael Sam, the first openly gay player

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NEW YORK — Michael Sam waited and waited. Hours passed, rounds came and went, and eventually, there were only eight more picks left on the third and final day of the NFL draft.

For just a moment, it looked like 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 Saturday from the St. Louis Rams, the team right down the road from where Sam played his college ball at the University of Missouri.

“Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I’m using every once of this to achieve greatness!!” Sam tweeted with a frenzied typo moments after he was picked in the seventh round, with a picture of himself wearing a Rams cap and a pink polo shirt.

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 Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year.

FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2012 file photo, Missouri's Michael Sam (52) runs onto the field along with their teammates before the start of an NCAA college football game against Georgia in Columbia, Mo. Sam was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday, May 10, 2014. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

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FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2012 file photo, Missouri’s Michael Sam ... more >

The pick came after several rounds of suspense. The first round of the day, No. 4 overall, came and went, no Sam. Then the fifth and sixth, and finally, the day was down to just a handful of picks.

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…” the 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. ESPN and the NFL Network had cameras there and showed Sam’s reaction.

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.

Sam will start his professional career not far from the place where he played his college ball, with three former Missouri teammates.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam was considered a mid-to-late round pick, 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.

“I knew I was going to get picked somewhere. Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I’m going to sack their quarterback,” Sam said.

He was taken with the 249th overall pick out of 256. Players from Marist, Maine and McGill University in Canada were slected 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 during an interview on ESPN.

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