A standout preseason campaign earned Mike Purcell a spot on the San Francisco 49ers 53-man roster out of training camp.
But despite wreaking havoc in opposing backfields to the tune of 12 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown in the exhibition season, Purcell had to wait two months for his next opportunity.
The defensive lineman played sparingly in his first action of 2015 against the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.
The connections between San Francisco and Chicago run deep. After all, the teams have been facing off since 1950.
Then the stars finally aligned on Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals came to town. With Glenn Dorsey on the Injured Reserve List and Arik Armstead nursing a sore shoulder, Purcell garnered his first career start.
And as it just so happened to work out, the player on Arizona's offensive line that Purcell faced off against was former 49ers guard Mike Iupati – one of Purcell's best friends.
"When I found out I was going to start, I kind of giggled inside knowing I would be starting opposite of him," Purcell said. "He was the one who kind of took me under his wing when I first got out here."
Purcell and Iupati both come from Polynesian descent and frequently spend time together outside of football. They even ate dinner together the night before Sunday's game.
"Our families are really good friends," Purcell said. "We'll probably end up living 10 minutes down the road from each other. Being able to play against him, one of the best in the league, it was special."
Although Iupati's team got the victory, Purcell did record three tackles and his first career sack – a takedown of Carson Palmer in the fourth quarter.
"I think I did all right," Purcell said. "It's a numbers game. So when my number was finally called, I just wanted to show them what I'm about and what I can do."
In the past, Purcell has mostly been viewed as a nose tackle. But his cross-training along the defensive line allowed him to fill in at defensive tackle versus Arizona. That versatility figures to set Purcell up for more reps in the final five games of the season.
"He's a guy that you really cheer for because he just keeps working every day," defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said on Thursday. "I could see Mike playing a significant amount. He gives us depth at end. He gives us depth at nose. So he'll be playing both of those spots. And he's a stout guy and his performance has earned him more opportunities."