WASHINGTON — The coverage of Sam's big moment took several months of planning by ESPN, which began preparing to follow Sam's progress in the draft shortly after he publicly came out in February. "We talked about it in production meetings for months," said Seth Markman, who oversaw ESPN's draft coverage. "We knew he'd be in the draft, but we didn't know what round. We knew we had to figure out a way to attack it."
Based on its draft projections, ESPN reckoned that Sam would go in the later rounds — if he made it at all. As such, the network decided not to assign a camera crew to him on Thursday or Friday, when teams made their first selections (the network had gained exclusive access to Sam because it is producing a feature on him to go with an award he will receive at the network's ESPY Awards in July).
In any case, it opted to wait until Saturday — the draft's final day — to turn its cameras on him, figuring that Sam, disappointed by not being picked early, might be too discouraged to let a crew trail him to the bitter end. The network also agreed that it wouldn't air any footage if Sam wasn't picked.
After nearly a full day of waiting, Sam got the call from the Rams a little after 6 p.m. He was the 249th player selected out of 256. His family and friends began to celebrate.
And at that moment, ESPN's producers in New York lost the live feed from California, where its crew was with Sam. A thunderstorm near network headquarters in Bristol, Conn., knocked out a relay of the California feed from Bristol to Manhattan.
Fortunately, the ESPN crew in California caught the emotional celebration on tape and fed a recording back to the network's draft-production truck outside Radio City Music Hall in New York. ESPN's producer in California, Maura Mandt, told Markman, "It's great! It's emotional!"