Photo courtesy of Cameron Books

Photo courtesy of Cameron Books

“Field of Play: 60 Years of NFL Photography” a must-have book for 49ers fans

Sep 27, 2022 at 7:51 AM--

You've seen the famous photograph. Legendary coach and quarterback—the late Bill Walsh with Joe Montana—kneel on the Candlestick Stadium turf to lay out a battle plan in the latter moments of a 23-0 win over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game on January 6, 1985.

Photographer Michael Zagaris is the man who snapped that iconic photograph. It was featured in Sports Illustrated and the team museum at Levi's Stadium.

Another 49ers coach, Steve Mariucci, tried desperately to pay homage to the photo, attempting to recreate it with another Hall of Fame quarterback—Steve Young.

"We're playing a game, and we're winning pretty big," Mariucci told Rich Eisen. "Second quarter, second down, I'm looking around, and boom, there's Michael Zagaris. Michael Zagaris is right on the sideline, and I went, 'Boom, oh my God, that's probably where he was sitting or kneeling when he took that photo of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana.' So I went, 'time out!'"

Mariucci admits that there was no real reason to call the timeout. He just didn't want to miss this opportunity. Of course, the decision left Young confused as his coach called him over.

"Why?" Young asked or gestured.

Mariucci didn't let up. He continued to try to get his quarterback to come over to him. Young finally started to make his way over, so Mariucci took a knee, waiting for his quarterback to get closer and do the same.

Young didn't. Instead, the quarterback bypassed his coach to get some water, leaving Mariucci awkwardly kneeling, with his hand on the ground, alone.

"Steve Young's supposed to be here with me," Mariucci hilariously explained. "He's over there drinking water. So I'm like, 'OK, I'm going to have to do it some other time here.'"

Mariucci stood up, after which Young approached him and finally asked what he wanted.

"Nothing," Mariucci responded. "Good job. Let's go back in the game."

That story shows you how revered the iconic photograph is and the level of respect for Zagaris. Most of the iconic photos from the 49ers' past were probably snapped by Zagaris. He hasn't slowed down after 60 years of NFL photography. Zagaris continues to capture memorable images of the 49ers this season.

Soon, fans will be able to enjoy a massive collection of Zagaris' photographs in the soon-to-be-released "Field of Play: 60 Years of NFL Photography."

While a portion is dedicated to his time spent photographing the Raiders, most of the book takes you down memory lane through Zagaris' 49 seasons with the 49ers, from some of the Kezar Stadium years, through the dynasty of the 80s and 90s, to more current imagery as recent as last season's playoff win over the Green Bay Packers.

Photos from Deion Sanders in the locker room with his uniform perfectly laid out on the floor to safety Talanoa Hufanga's blocked punt returned for a touchdown against the Packers—they're all in there, each telling a different story. And at 11.4 by 14.2 inches, they are there in vivid detail.

"This book is the culmination of a journey that began for me in the mid-1950s," wrote Zagaris. "It reflects my own journey in the game—my vision and its evolution... And the game as seen through the prism of the players who play the game.

"I have always been a romantic about life, a seeker. While this book is a collection of images and related stories, it is not just about standard football action. I am not a sports photographer. I've always approached anything that is of interest to me from the point of view of a photojournalist—a storyteller . . . with a point of view. These photos document an ongoing search for the essence of the game, as primarily seen through the eyes of the men who play it . . . And occasionally through the eyes of the fans."

Most of the memorable 49ers photographs tend to come from the lenses of Zagaris' camera. I must admit, his ability to capture the perfect moment and convey a story through imagery sometimes leaves me stunned. He's always been one of my favorite photographers. I was excited when I heard the news of this book's impending release. Thank you to Brad Mangin for sending me an early copy. I have to say, it's one of the more beautiful pieces of my collection.

"You always knew Michael was around, except—and here's the crazy part—when he was working as the 49ers team photographer," wrote Montana, one of the many who contributed text to the book. "In those settings, he was able to blend in, and you never knew he was there until later, when you saw his photos.

"He has a tough job. Taking pictures in sports is not easy. You have to position yourself in the right place at the exact right time, or you miss the shot.

"Michael had a knack for always being in the mix. It never failed that he was routinely in the best spot at the exact right time to capture the moment. I don't know how he knew where to go, but he did. I don't know how he got there, but he did. Again and again."

The book has a retail price of $80 but can be preordered on Amazon for $64.99.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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