After John started playing at Ohio State, Alan continued videotaping his games. He even made a highlight film of John's best plays, with his own voice describing the action, and sent the reel to NFL teams. When it came time for John, who maintained a 3.9 grade point average as a chemistry major, to apply to medical school, Alan insisted he also try for a Rhodes Scholarship. Alan wrote a great deal of the application essay. The subject was determination.
John rarely socialized. He was shy, and he didn't have a girlfriend in college until late in his senior year, after he had been accepted to medical school. For years John believed that the only person he could trust was his father.
That proved to be wrong. In 1986, Alan became the target of an investigation into charges of income tax evasion, forgery and theft, and John was caught up in the trouble. Alan had persuaded John to secure bank loans of $500,000 to help him start a vending-machine leasing company. As collateral John had put up his $290,000 signing bonus from the 49ers. Federal authorities charged that Alan had not paid taxes on income from a related company he also controlled. State prosecutors alleged that Alan had stolen some bonds and forged signatures on others. John was implicated because he held some suspect bonds as collateral on the loan to his father.
"In the beginning the FBI, IRS and Pittsburgh police were all looking to arrest John," says Stan Glick, a Columbus businessman and a friend of John's. "He had done absolutely nothing wrong. He had trusted his father to invest that money wisely. He had to prove to the FBI that he knew nothing of this company. Did his father do this maliciously? No. He would not purposely do anything to harm John. He just thinks differently from other people."
In late 1986, Alan fled, sailing around the Caribbean on a yacht he had purchased—with the help of $50,000 from John—as a potential charter craft. The FBI searched for him. A year later Alan secretly returned, buying parts for his yacht at a boatyard near Baltimore, and authorities subsequently apprehended him in the parking lot of a Pittsburgh motel. He was eventually acquitted of the forgery and theft charges but convicted of tax evasion and unlawful flight. John testified for the prosecution at the tax-evasion trial. In August 1988, Alan was sentenced to six years; he is currently imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institute in Ashland, Ky.
"John was a man-child realizing for the first time that his father had feet of clay," says Bob Cindrich, John's attorney in the case. "I told him to remember when he got on the stand that he loved his father, but that he had to tell the truth to protect himself. It was a real heartbreaker."
The legal troubles began during John's third season with the 49ers. He soon severed all ties with his father, and he hasn't spoken to him since. He didn't understand why his father had gotten him involved in such a mess. John was so distracted—and frightened about playing football without his father's motivation and guidance—that he couldn't concentrate fully on the sport.
"I jumped offside, got penalties for holding or late hits," says John. "I didn't know if I was excited or neurotic. I was lonely and miserable. I wanted to quit, but I was afraid that people—my father—would see me as a failure."
His inability to concentrate adversely affected his medical-school studies as well. A few days after each football season, Frank would return to Columbus and immerse himself in school. He would wake up at six, run and do calisthenics, and be at the library by eight. He would take a two-hour break in the late afternoon to lift weights and train, and then cram until midnight. But he was constantly interrupted by calls from his accountant and Cindrich, who were trying to resolve his legal difficulties.
"I was studying as hard as the other kids, but not getting the results," says Frank. "I went from being one of the best students to being one of the worst. When it came time for exams, I'd say, 'I've saturated the material.' Then I'd get the results back, and I'd be stunned."