SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Julian Peterson knows it's a rare opportunity. This type of matchup of two budding superstars under the NFL's brightest lights will occur only a few times in any player's career.
Peterson, the San Francisco 49ers' athletic linebacker, will spend much of today's wild-card game in one-on-one coverage against Jeremy Shockey, the New York Giants' heralded rookie tight end.
It's a collision of prototypes for football players of the future. It pits a first-time Pro Bowler against a first-time Pro Bowler. It's thrilling stuff for the fans who spot it.
And it's even exciting for coaches who have seen everything.
"I think it's going to be one of the great matchups of the year," 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "There's going to be some plays where everyone is going to know that Julian's got Shockey, and Shockey's on Julian. Someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose.
"It'll be evident. It's like a corner on a wideout out there. All those other matchups are hard to diagnose, but that one is pure, and it'll be fun to watch."
Both teams' coaches have run out of superlatives to describe the cornerstones of their respective units. The matchup might not decide the game, but it very well could be the most interesting thing on the field.
Shockey's rookie season has been a well-chronicled success. He caught 74 passes for 894 yards, and he caught the attention of the nation's largest city with everything from his athleticism to his cockiness to his stringy blond hair.
"He's so crazy, man," said Mike Rumph, the 49ers' rookie cornerback who won a national championship with Shockey at Miami last season. "He'll come out there and cuss out a referee before a game! That's crazy, but if it works, it works."
When the Giants met the 49ers in the regular season opener nearly four months ago, neither player was at his current level. Shockey was making his NFL debut, while Peterson still was honing the smarts and finishing skills that have set him apart.
San Francisco won that game 16-13 at the Meadowlands en route to a 10-6 record and the NFC West title. The Giants (10-6) finished with a four-game winning streak to get in as a wild card.