Ricardo Lockette was late getting to the team hotel in the summer of 2011, which meant a roommate he had never met was already in bed, resting up before the two receivers would report for their first NFL training camp the next day.
Lockette introduced himself, telling his new roommate who he was, where he was from—the usual small talk—to which fellow undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin replied, according to Lockette, "'Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. My name is Doug Baldwin and I'm from Stanford University. Shut up, go to sleep, we've got work to do.'"
Baldwin's recollection of that meeting varies slightly, leaving out the "Shut up and go to sleep part," but both agree that that late-night meeting was the beginning a special friendship.
"I'm already in bed, and Ricardo comes in late, and he walks in and I said, 'You're late, aren't you?'" Baldwin said. "He said, 'I just got off the flight.' I said, 'Doug Baldwin, Stanford, he said, Ricardo Lockette, Fort Valley State,' and that was the start of our relationship."
The two bonded instantly not just because they were roommates or because they played the same position, but also because they both arrived in Seattle feeling like underdogs having gone undrafted that spring. That friendship continued the next year even after Lockette went to San Francisco, and grew as Lockette returned to the Seahawks from 2013 to 2015 to become a special teams standout while Baldwin was turning into the Seahawks' best receiver. So it hardly came as a surprise that Baldwin sat near the front of the room Thursday as Lockette announced his retirement, showing his support for a dear friend whose career was cut short by a neck injury suffered six months earlier.
"From (that first meeting) we developed a friendship knowing we were both undrafted guys, knowing it was going to be very difficult to overcome the obstacles in front of us," Baldwin said. "But we told each other we'd always have each other's backs, and I remember that to this day, because it's never changed. We've been through so many things together, so many obstacles, so many challenges, and he kept his word, he always had my back, and I will always have his, no matter where he's at. Whether it's in Seattle or whether it's in Atlanta or whether it's somewhere in Timbuktu, he will always be my best friend."
From their first camp together until last season, Baldwin and Lockette always pushed each other on and off the field, something Lockette joked he knew was coming after that first meeting.
"I said 'OK, this guy is going to be a handful,'" Lockette said. "But he pushed me through a lot of days where I felt like, 'Man, I'm from a small school, I'm from Fort Valley State, I'm from Albany, Georgia. No one is going to believe in me, they didn't even draft me.' And he's like, 'Man, we are here for a reason,' and that's when the lightbulb came on, because I knew that I was here for a reason. But sometimes it takes family, friends and someone close to you to pick you up in a time of need, and I was just happy he was there to do that, and that's pretty much an example of our entire team and that's why we play the way we play, we play relentless, we play at a level that the competition is either unwilling or unable to match and that's at practice, that's on and off the field."
That relentless level of competition is why Baldwin and Lockette stuck in the NFL, but it wasn't always a positive, even if the intentions were good. Baldwin has said in the past that his struggles in his second season were the result of over-training in the offseason, and it turns out he had a partner in crime in those workouts.
"There was a time after their first year together, they came back after the offseason and they worked out like every day together—I can just imagine how much they were pushing each other to get ready—and they came back tighter than a drum," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They had all kinds of problems coming back, they were just so over-prepared and over-hyped about it all. But for the right reasons; they were just trying to get back and be their best. It's just because both of those guys are so nuts about competing and they are such great competitors. They just fed off one another and fueled one another in an extraordinary way."
Yet as much as Baldwin and Lockette pushed each other and encouraged each other on the football field, they'll be friends long after both of their careers have ended because of the bond they formed off the field.
"The thing that always stood out to me about Ricardo wasn't anything he did on the football field, but it was the person he was away from the field, his character," Baldwin said. "The genuine nature that he carried himself with, and his personality. He was a friend, first and foremost. He truly cared about the people around him, he was always interested in things going on in other people's lives, and he wanted to be there and help in any way that he could. That to me is what a Seahawk is all about. It's about the person behind that logo, and Ricardo Lockette embodied that to the fullest.
"Ricardo Lockette is probably the most approachable, the funniest, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He truly cares, he's very genuine and you love to be around him. Our locker room loved him because he was in everybody's business, but in a way that made you love him, because you could tell he genuinely cared about your success on and off the field."
Former Seahawks wideout Ricardo Lockette announced his retirement from the NFL on May 12, 2016. Take a look back at his best photos in a Seattle uniform.