One of the longest-tenured professionals affiliated with National Football League is renaissance man Michael Zagaris, beloved team photographer of the San Francisco 49ers. The animated photo artist best known as “Z-man” has officially been with the ballclub since 1973 but can spin yarns from the all-or-nothing days at the ol’ track-style field at Kezar Stadium.
In the entire history of the Gold Rush, Zagaris is one of its greatest hidden treasures.
During his time with the organization, he was allowed exclusive access to the team by Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh. One day in 1979, Z-man communicated to Walsh that he felt something special was going on in San Francisco—he wanted to document it. Though hesitant at first, Walsh OK'd Z-man’s proposal and the rest is history.
“Mike was so unique, and so colorful. We were just delighted to have him around,” said Walsh, via NFL Films. “Everyone is just attracted to him. We grew to include him as part of the 49er family.”
And as part of the 49er family, Zagaris recorded it all.
With his photos, he captured one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports, witnessing the rise and fall of the five-time Super Bowl champion 'Niners. The documentation of that period is as magical as it gets, especially when you reflect on how talented Zagaris is.
The 49ers—or sports for that matter—do not adequately define his illustrious body of work, which includes prolific endeavors in U.S. politics and rock n’ roll touring.
Between his stretch with the team and his worldly background, Zagaris is able to offer a one-of-a-kind perspective, which is exactly what he did this offseason. Off their sixth Super Bowl showing, the 49ers are back again, looking like one of the most dominant teams in the NFL today.
They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, but that is precisely what happened when another Stanford byproduct emerged to save this team from the depths.
A disciple of Walsh, coach Jim Harbaugh reared the 49ers back to the top, re-instilling the winning culture in the Bay Area. Remarkably, the coach achieved the turnaround in a shortened offseason with largely the same personnel that struggled to hit .500 in years past.
Considering the intangibles and mystic elements involved—that are difficult to describe as anything else but serendipitous—it takes an experienced mind like Z’s to tap into what is truly happening in San Francisco.
In this five-part video series, we’ll take the faithful behind the scenes of the resurgent San Francisco 49ers in the last-ever season at Candlestick Park, told by the one man who was there for it all, Michael Zagaris.
Directed and produced by Dylan DeSimone and David Haladjian. Special thanks to the San Francisco 49ers, Michael Zagaris, the city of San Francisco, the San Francisco Public Library and the staff at Candlestick Park. Be sure to return to B/R for Parts II-V of this video series.