Meet the San Francisco 49ers’ body-painted, banjo-playing superfans

Meet the San Francisco 49ers’ body-painted, banjo-playing superfans

It’s the beginning of the San Francisco 49ers game against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late 2022. The booming sound of drums fills Levi’s Stadium as fireworks shoot off and jets scream overhead. Cheering it on from a high perch is Frank Roldan, a firefighter from Roseville who’s dressed in a red leather jacket, red shirt, red gloves and gold cowboy hat.

Roldan is here to support the team he’s rooted for since his parents took him to the big San Francisco victory parade in 1982. “It got to the point where you automatically assumed they were going to make it in the playoffs or Super Bowl every year,” he recalls. “How could they not win? It was just a joy to watch, because they were so dominant.”

It’s those formative memories that turned Roldan into the person he is today – a full-grown adult strutting in public like a glam-metal version of Deadpool. “My favorite time was probably watching Joe Montana when he had 34 seconds left against the Bengals in ’89, and they stormed down the field,” he says. “My dad was crying, my mom was screaming, and all around San Francisco, you heard people honking their horns and yelling out windows.”

Frank Roldan, left, and Paul Roach cheer during a 49ers game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday, December 11, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Some folks are content to watch the 49ers at a sports bar or get stadium seats one or two times a year. Others take their fandom more as a directive from the supreme being, attending games for unbroken, decades-long stretches in full-on regalia and makeup that takes forever to apply (and even more time to scrub off in the shower). And for this, we salute them: No matter how the team’s doing on the field, these superfans bring energy that’s just as entertaining and contagious as watching them nail a touchdown.

Mark Castanon is a San Jose aerospace systems engineer who on game day morphs into “49erMark,” rooting from the stands in red face paint, a hat shaped like a Super Bowl diamond ring and a kilt paying tribute to 49ers coach Jim Tomsula’s stint with NFL Europe’s Scottish Claymores.

“Everything I wear is 49ers,” he says. “I’ve got my 49ers tennis shoes, my 49ers socks. I’ve got my red kilt with gold-and-black stripes. I do wear underwear under my kilt, because there are those crazy types of fans who are always willing to take a look. So I have a pair of 49ers boxers.”

Castanon started his journey to superfandom when he applied to do marketing for the team during the 2011 NFL lockout. “I wrote them a letter saying something about my children not being able to say the word ‘Raiders’ in my house,” he says. He was selected and met with the team reps in a warehouse. “They said, ‘Can we do something with you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They went, ‘You don’t want to hear what it is?’ I said, ‘I don’t care – I want to be on the ticket.’ So they put body paint all over me.”

San Francisco 49ers fan Mark Castanon, of San Jose, watches warmups before a game against the Miami Dolphins at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Dec.4, 2022. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Castanon has gone on to attend three Super Bowls as “49erMark” and even pulled the foghorn for the first preseason game in 2019 – the blaring instrument announces kickoff time and is reportedly the same model as the foghorns used on the Golden Gate Bridge. When he’s not instigating eardrum-shaking honks and looking like a grinning tomato, Castanon simmers in a warm team environment in his home “fan cave.”

“I’ve got photos of the last game at Candlestick Park against Atlanta. I’ve got my Montana jersey and paraphernalia that 95 percent I got signed myself — footballs and helmets and hats,” he says. “Probably my favorite artifact is a picture of me standing with Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Joe Montana with Super Bowl trophies in front of us.”

Of course, the room is painted in gold with a red wall. “My wife told me I was only allowed one wall, and now I have the whole room taken over, including the bed that has 49ers-colored sheets and pillows. I think she’s given up.”

Marlena Segi, a San Francisco 49ers fan, cheers for the 49ers during a game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday, December 11, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

When you’re navigating the stands at Levi’s, you’ll sometimes hear the twanging of bluegrass and look over to see a bearded man in a propeller beanie and Superman-style 49ers cape. This is Stacy Samuels, aka “Banjo Man,” a fan and musician from Fairfax who’s attended every game since 1981 and is known for his energetic plucking of Earl Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

“I play that over and over. I’ve played it for 40 years, probably thousands and thousands of times” — including in at least 10 Super Bowls, he says. “One year at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, I got to go backstage – because I’m friends with Steve Earle – and when Earl Scruggs was playing, I went in his tent and talked to him. I explained, I’m the world-record holder for the number of performances of ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown.’”

Like, officially? “Well, unless there’s somebody in an insane asylum who can’t stop playing it, I’m pretty sure it’s me.”

Stacy Samuels aka Banjo Man, cheers for the San Francisco 49ers during a game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday, December 11, 2022.(Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

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Samuels runs a Berkeley business called Interstellar Propeller that makes multicolored, flying-propeller beanie hats – it’s sold more than two million beanies to people as far away as Europe and Japan – but his heart is really wherever the 49ers are playing.

“I would say my favorite moment over the years was 1989 at the Super Bowl in Miami, where they came back, and John Taylor caught the pass from Montana to win the game,” he says. “I actually got interviewed in the end zone by (legendary Bay Area sportscaster) Gary Radnich. And I got to scoop up a little piece of the end zone, which I saved for many years, but it disintegrated.”

Like many superfans, Samuels isn’t getting paid by the team. It’s just a labor of love.

“It gives you a way to be part of the game more. You get to root for your team, and you do a good thing for the community,” he says. “It’s hard to believe I’ve done this now for 43 years, but it’s great. It’s just been an incredible career to have.”

Salvador Lopez, a San Francisco 49ers fan, holds up his memorabilia before a game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday, December 11, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)