"How much?" Lachey asked.
The question stopped Frank short. "I don't love it badly enough," he said. "I can't want to play only for the money. There has to be passion. Medicine is my passion."
During the NFL draft on April 23, Frank officially announced his retirement in a conference call with the San Francisco media. "It took 15 minutes," he says. "I hung up and said to my girlfriend [Paige Rowland, an Ohio State student and part-time model], 'It's over.' We hugged. Then I went out and hit golf balls. It was anticlimactic."
The 49ers used their second-round pick to select tight end Wesley Walls from Mississippi. This summer, as the 49ers have been sweating through training camp, Walls is one of six candidates competing for what is now the least experienced position on the team. "It may be that we'll have to use two tight ends to get the same job done," says quarterback coach Mike Holmgren. "John was a rare combination of talents."
Frank, meanwhile, is consumed with reviewing textbooks on immunology, hematology and human reproduction. He is also working 40 hours a week at Ohio State, designing a research project on human movement. Next week he starts his second year at Ohio State Medical School.
In announcing his retirement, Frank cited his broken hand and the need to guard against further hand injuries, which could prevent him from fulfilling his ambition to become an orthopedic surgeon. But his reasons for abandoning football were more complex. Two years earlier Frank had begun examining his relationship with football in sessions with a psychotherapist. He didn't like what he found.
"For many years I desensitized myself," he says. "I kept pushing my feelings back and back, repressing any sort of human emotion, especially when I saw an injury. You get into a frame of mind; it's the whole macho thing. Football players carry this further than the average male. A lot of players have these feelings, but they never speak about them. It's something you may talk about with your wife, but only if she confronts you. This is the way football is: If someone dislocates his shoulder on the practice field, the coaches just move the drill. If your good friend goes down, you can't go over, pat him on the head and hand him a cup of water."
The hard hitting bothered Frank so much that he questioned the kind of person he had become on the field. "I made a lot of enemies on defense," he says. "Some guys really hated me. They didn't understand the way I played in the fourth quarter with reckless abandon, with no regard for my body.
"Who draws the distinction between the person you are on the field and the one you are off it? And does anybody really care who you are when the game's over? Like [ Chicago Bears middle linebacker] Mike Singletary. In the NFC Championship game last season, I made a block on him at knee level. I wasn't trying to hurt him; I was trying to get him to the ground. He gets up yelling. I'm sure that's the first thing he'd say to me today, that I tried to hurt his knee, and I don't value that."
Frank came to view playing in the NFL as a cold experience. He was just another face in the team picture. Was it too much to ask for some attachment? "When my teammates were in the hospital because of injuries, I visited them," he says. "But when I had my hand operated on last year, nobody came to see me. In the 11th grade I had my tonsils out, and 30 people visited me. Here I was, 26 years old, a 49er—one of the 50 most popular people in the Bay Area—and nobody comes. Weird.