" Bill Walsh never called. [General manager] John McVay was the most concerned. He said, 'Do you think you'll be able to play? If not, we'll put you on injured reserve for six weeks.' Some compassion. I stopped by the team offices a couple days after surgery, and the guys were curious. They asked about my hand. Then they went out to practice, and I was sitting alone in the locker room. I thought, Now what? So I went to New York City to visit Paige, who was on a modeling assignment, and on TV we watched the 49ers beat the Rams. Hey, you just move the drill."
Growing up in Pittsburgh, the second oldest of Alan and Barbara Frank's four children—and their only son—John played football constantly with the neighborhood kids. He always pretended he was one of the tough guys on the Steel Curtain defense, somebody like linebacker Jack Lambert or safety Donnie Shell. When he was 10, John asked his parents if he could try organized tackle football. At first they balked.
"They looked at each other funny," says Frank. "Dad said, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' Mom said, 'You know your father wasn't ever allowed to play football.' And I said, "Just sign the release form.' "
Alan, an attorney, had been a star center on the Carnegie Tech basketball team. He was also an outstanding shortstop, but when the Pittsburgh Pirates offered him a contract with one of their minor league teams, he turned it down to work as a mechanical engineer. In the evenings he attended Duquesne Law School. "He was a tough Jewish kid from the city streets," says John. "He was also brilliant and very intense."
Almost from the moment he signed that release permitting his son to play tackle football, Alan was hell-bent on teaching John everything he knew about sports. He chastised John for his little bit of baby fat, calling him "a blimp" or "a pear." Says John, "I was athletic, but I wasn't athletic enough for him."
Alan put John through drills: catching on the run, catching in rainstorms, catching looking into the sun. To improve John's running technique, he hired a track coach from Carnegie-Mellon. To school John in the intricacies of blocking, Alan enlisted the services of his friends Joe Moore, the offensive line coach at Pitt at the time, and Dan Radakovich, then the Steelers' offensive line coach. "I hated it," says John. "I spent the summer hitting a dummy while my friends were at the swimming pool."
It never occurred to him to stand up to his father and tell him he was pushing too hard. John was afraid that if he questioned a drill or a decision he would let his father down. "His advice always led to success," says John. "Everything he said was so right. I couldn't argue."
While John was attending Mount Lebanon High, his parents separated. Although Alan was then living apart from the family, he didn't spend any less time with his son. "He'd show up every morning to make sure I ate a big breakfast, so I'd grow up strong," says Frank. On Friday nights Alan videotaped his son's football games, and they studied the tapes as well as game films Alan purchased from the school for $100 each.
He frequently came by the house on weekday evenings to help John with his math and science homework. Because John wanted to become a doctor, Alan pushed for straight A's. "He set the standards high so I could get into med school," says Frank. "I didn't want to disappoint him. I always felt we were working toward a common goal."
John and his dad did more than just work together. They rode motorcycles, skied, tinkered with cars and listened to music. "It was a perfect relationship," says Frank. "A model. I couldn't have loved anybody more."