KIRKLAND – Once they were rivals, but even then there was admiration.
It happened a year ago, when Lofa Tatupu was a rookie linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks and Julian Peterson, also a linebacker, was in his sixth season with the San Francisco 49ers.
As players sometimes do, particularly those who play similar positions, Tatupu and Peterson noticed each other.
“I remember one of the games we played against San Francisco,” Tatupu said. “It was the game down there and it was a real close game (the Seahawks won 27-25), and I remember seeing this linebacker for the 49ers. I was watching him and thinking, ‘That guy is really a good player.’”
Peterson, likewise, can recall his first impressions of Tatupu, who became an immediate Seahawks starter after being a second-round draft pick out of the University of Southern California and played well enough in his first NFL season to be invited to the Pro Bowl.
“I just remember being real impressed with him,” Peterson said. “He was a good, young player. You could tell he really knew the game, and that’s probably because his dad (former NFL player Mosi Tatupu) had also played.”
They would see each other again a few weeks later, once more from opposing sidelines, when the 49ers faced Seattle at Qwest Field. And those early glimpses were the start of a friendship, though it would take several more months before it bloomed.
In the interim, each one went his own way. Tatupu and the Seahawks advanced through the playoffs to the Super Bowl, while Peterson and the 49ers limped through a disappointing 4-12 record. Then came the offseason, when Seattle began its pursuit of Peterson as an unrestricted free agent.
When Peterson eventually signed, the Seahawks acquired another linebacker with Pro Bowl experience and Tatupu acquired a new buddy.
The two seemed to hit it off right from the start. In addition to their football prowess, Tatupu and Peterson have similar natures. Both are genial, talkative and enjoy a good laugh.
They are also locker room neighbors in the team’s Kirkland training facility. Tatupu used to be on another side of the room, but moved over recently to inhabit the cubicle once used by ex-Seattle linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski.
Often after practice Tatupu and Peterson will have their heads together, maybe swapping stories or laughing about something silly.
“We get along great,” Tatupu said. “We like talking and spending time together. We even like getting together away from football, just hanging out, sometimes with our women.”
After his six seasons in San Francisco, Peterson arrived in Seattle after last season knowing few of his new teammates. Almost from the outset, though, he seemed to click with Tatupu.
“We got along right from the start,” Peterson said. “I mean, it was that way with all the linebackers because we all get along really well. But Lofa and I just seemed to hit it off. And now we’re really good friends.”
As players, Tatupu and Peterson offer a nice complement of abilities. Tatupu, who is shorter and stockier, plays inside linebacker and was the team’s leading tackler for the second season in a row with 93 solos and 30 assists.
Peterson, meanwhile, plays outside and had a team-best 10 sacks, with no other Seattle player having more than four. He was also No. 4 in total tackles with 89.
“He really sets an example of how to play,” Tatupu said of Peterson. “He plays the game the right way. He’s all over the field, making plays. It’s great having him around because he’s a veteran. I can see how he plays and I can learn things from him. All of (the other linebackers) can.”