The word “legend” carries a lot of weight. Yet sometimes it’s simple to single out a legendary figure. Tony Bennett is a legend in music. Betty White is a legend in TV. Willie Mays is a legend in baseball. It’s not as easy, though, to identify legendary San Francisco 49ers tailgaters. After all, many tailgaters deserve the designation. And then there’s that pesky word “legend” – different people assign different meanings to it.
Here, we introduce five 49ers tailgating legends.
You may not know Samuels by his given name. Instead, you probably know him better by his nicknames – “Banjo Man” or “Super Niner.”
A rabid fan for more than 30 years, the Fairfax resident is “known worldwide for his antics at 49ers games, including playing the banjo and wearing a multicolored beanie cap,” the Marin Independent Journal reported in 2007. As the newspaper noted, Samuels carries a banjo, sports a scraggly beard and ponytail and wears a gold Super Niner shirt beneath a red cape.
Before each home game, Samuels works the crowd and the tailgate parties, the Marin newspaper said. “He knows where to find the best food and most generous people,” the newspaper reported.
On the particular Sunday that a Marin Independent Journal reporter trailed Samuels, he was “offered steak and imported beer at one tailgate party, then grilled prawns at another, ribs at another and grapes at yet another. He has a five-course meal in his belly by the time he’s encouraged to cut in line at the parking lot porta-potty. It’s the only time all day that Samuels stands still.”
A person can be a legend. And so can a group. Club 49 ranks among the most visible tailgating crews at 49ers games. Indeed, Club 49 enjoys an international profile as the open-arms host of 49ers fans from around the world.
Club 49, founded in 2005, is comprised of mostly season ticketholders “who have stuck with the team during our down years,” the group says on its website. The club says that the only way to endure the “down” times on the field “has been through tailgating in the parking lot at Candlestick. A majority of us have known each other through discussing the 49ers on the 49ers.com message board. And from there we have met up and have been tailgating since then.”
Club 49 earned Tailgater of the Year honors from the 49ers for 2005 and 2007.
“Club 49 definitely is the spot to be at for San Francisco 49er tailgates. It’s not your regular tailgate. We go all out to shock people,” the group says on its website. “You can’t walk past our tailgate without saying at the very least ‘Wow!!’”
Joe and Diann Prowse of Ridgecrest arrive hours ahead of kickoff to set up their tailgating spread outside Candlestick. “It’s just a family thing, and we do it every home game,” Diann said in a video on the 49ers website. “It’s the kids, the grandkids, the great-grandkids.”
The 49ers recognized the Prowse family as 2010 Tailgater of the Year. Before each 49ers home game, judges roam the parking lots in search of the Tailgater of the Game. Tailgaters are scored on food, decorations and 49ers spirit. Before the final home game of the season, all of the winners compete for the Tailgater of the Year title.
Fred and Lisa Santillan
The Santillans, a couple from Sunnyvale, are season ticketholders and co-presidents of the Santa Clara Gold Rushers, a 49ers booster club. As such, they tailgate religiously at Candlestick. But in 2014, they’ll have a much shorter drive to 49ers games. That’s when the team’s new stadium is set to open in Santa Clara.
In 2010, Lisa told Examiner.com: “I want to be able to share the joy that I have going to the games and for the team with as many other people as I can. Tailgating at the games allows me to do that.”
Examiner.com described the Santillans’ tailgate as a day-long culinary adventure. “If you’re looking for tofu and Jenny Craig, this isn’t the place,” Examiner.com observed.
Montana spent plenty of time on the field at Candlestick. You might remember him. He’s the most storied quarterback in 49ers history, leading the team to four Super Bowl victories. He wears the “legend” label like a Hong Kong-tailored suit.
Since retiring from football in the early 1990s, Montana has done his fair share of tailgating.
In 2006, Montana appeared on Rachel Ray’s TV show for some “indoor tailgating.” In October, he was the star attraction at a VIP tailgating party before the 49ers squared off against the New York Giants. And early this year, Montana mingled with about 3,500 guests at a Super Bowl tailgating shindig in Indianapolis staged by Volkswagen.
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of “The Catch,” Montana threw passes to eight fans in the Volkswagen party’s end zone. As devoted 49ers fans know, “The Catch” was the winning Montana-to-Dwight Clark touchdown reception during the NFC Championship Game back in January of 1982.
“I am grateful to be a part of such an honored moment in football history that still resonates with fans on its 30th anniversary. It means so much to share one of my favorite sports memories with the great fans that turned a catch into ‘The Catch,’” Montana said.
Check out Tailgate Fan to keep the party going at tailgatefan.cbslocal.com.
John Egan is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. His work can be found on Examiner.com.