ST. LOUIS -- In the war room, history came suddenly.
With the clock running out on the seventh and final round of the 2014 NFL Draft on Saturday evening and the St. Louis Rams holding two of the last eight picks, Rams coach Jeff Fisher turned to general manager Les Snead and team president Kevin Demoff and said, "Let's go get Michael Sam" -- and the NFL changed forever.
|St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher says he had been thinking about drafting Michael Sam for several days. (Michael Silver/NFL)|
When Fisher announced his intention to draft Sam, the former Missouri star hoping to become the NFL's first openly gay player, there was a perceptible buzz in the Rams' war room, largely because no one else saw it coming.
Sam, the 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, was not rated highly on the team's draft board. An outside edge rusher viewed as a "tweener," meaning he doesn't necessarily fit as a traditional NFL defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, Sam didn't seem to be a logical fit for a team that has a pair of highly regarded defensive ends in All-Pro Robert Quinn and Chris Long.
Late Friday night in Fisher's office, as the coach met with Demoff and Snead, the subject of drafting Sam came up, and it was quickly dismissed. Yet privately, Fisher was contemplating the possibility that, if Sam remained on the board in the draft's latter stages, he could simultaneously get value and strike a blow for acceptance and respect.
"Stan was all for it," Fisher told me about 30 minutes after making the pick. "He said, 'I like it. Let's go for it.' "
And once the Rams were officially on the clock -- and Sam remained undrafted -- Fisher went for it. First, he had a very brief phone conversation with the player.
"It wasn't much," Fisher said. "He burst into tears, and he was so emotional that he really couldn't speak. It was a cool moment."
Fisher then instructed the team official in the back of the war room who was communicating with the league official at draft headquarters in New York, "Turn in Michael Sam, please." Then, specifying that he wanted Sam to be the first of consecutive picks (with Tennessee State center Demetrius Rhaney to follow), he said, "Michael Sam first."
At 5:48 p.m. CST, the pick was called in, and the war room grew silent. Fisher rose from his seat and walked over to the pair of large television sets in one corner of the room, and scores of coaches, scouts and other Rams officials joined him. A couple of minutes later, when the pick was flashed on the two screens, the room erupted in applause, and Fisher began receiving handslaps from nearly everyone in his vicinity.
A few minutes later, as he paced excitedly around his office, Fisher revealed to me that he'd been privately considering the Sam move for several days.
"I've been thinking about it," Fisher said. "Look, he's a good football player. We're glad to have him. We got better when we took him. And we're gonna do everything we can to get the most out of him. It's exciting."
It's also historic -- and until about 15 minutes before history was made, only one man had a clue what was about to happen.
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.