ST. LOUIS — Not long after Michael Sam waved to an adoring crowd at Missouri’s football season opener, he looked down at his cell phone. It was 3 p.m. CT, the deadline for NFL teams to pare rosters to 53 players. And the Rams’ coach was talking to the players who didn’t make the cut.
Sam headed into the locker room. At some point, his phone rang with the bad news: He didn’t make the cut.
Twenty other players were cut by the Rams on Saturday, all of them mere footnotes. For Sam, it meant a roadblock in his journey to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster.
Over and over, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said, it was purely a football decision.
“I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike,” Fisher said. “I really was, and I don’t say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do.”
Sam, a seventh-round draft pick, projected confidence while scrutinized at least as closely as Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. He has been cheered by athletes and celebrities, denigrated by just a few.
In the end, the defensive end couldn’t make a team stocked with pass rushers and lost out to undrafted Ethan Westbrooks, who proved more productive and more versatile.
Fisher believes Sam has an NFL future, and it still could be with the Rams. If Sam isn’t picked up by another team, he could land on the St. Louis practice squad.
“I can’t go there right now,” Fisher said. “Coaches don’t talk about practice squads because we have to see what happens. We’ll know better tomorrow afternoon.”
On Twitter, roughly an hour after he was cut, Sam wrote “The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I’ve always known. The journey continues.” He also thanked the Rams and city of St. Louis on Twitter, adding that he looks forward to a long and successful career.
Fisher personally delivered the news to the 20 others released in meetings Friday and Saturday, but he didn’t seem to mind that Sam was out of town, visiting his alma mater. Their conversation was perfunctory, with plans for a face-to-face meeting Sunday.