In the ’80s and early ’90s, the San Francisco 49ers were like gods in the Bay Area. Not only did they dominate the NFL, winning five Super Bowls, but they did it with finesse and class. Even non-football fans were drawn in, and spoke knowledgeably at parties about Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense, Joe Montana’s skill at the two-minute drill, the way running back Roger Craig’s high knee action helped him elude tacklers, and the defense’s ability to blitz, stunt, and sack opposing quarterbacks.
Craig gained additional notoriety in 1990 when he appeared in newspaper ads modeling Calvin Klein briefs—and nothing else.
Craig gained additional notoriety in 1990 when he appeared in a series of newspaper ads for Macy’s, modeling Calvin Klein briefs—and nothing else. The ads occupied almost a full page in the San Francisco Chronicle next to Herb Caen’s “three-dot” column, which for decades reported diligently on who was seen where and with whom in the Bay Area. Many readers turned to Caen’s column first thing every morning, which meant that Craig’s taut, muscled, nearly nude body was the first image they saw. It created a sensation, and the ad gained national attention.
Some of the stars lived nearby, which meant we’d see them around town. We’d try to be cool about this, giving them a passing nod of recognition without fawning or asking for autographs. It was the same when we saw Steve Jobs at the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market, or sat next to Robin Williams at Zuñi Cafe in San Francisco.
Several 49er players shopped for clothes at the same place I did, a small, trendy boutique called L’uomo in the Stanford Shopping Center. They carried all the stylish Italian designers you’d heard of and some you hadn’t, and the staff was skilled at finding clothes you’d look good in.
I was shopping there one afternoon, trying on clothes in one of the two tiny dressing rooms in the back. I’d put on each suit or shirt and come out to appraise it in the full-length, three-way mirror opposite. In the other dressing room, doing the same thing, was Roger Craig. I’d wait for him to vacate the mirror, scrupulously respecting his privacy, while his companion or a salesperson held up pants to go with a shirt or a tie to go with a suit. And he’d do the same for me.
This went on for about twenty minutes. Finally I emerged to view one more garment. Roger’s dressing room door was open and he was standing in his skivvies, waiting for the next outfit to arrive.
“Oh,” I deadpanned. “Now I recognize you.”
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and the co-founder of Retrospect.
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.