Ten years ago, when Atlanta falcon guard Bill Fralic was the star tackle on western Pennsylvania's best high school team, Penn Hills, coach Andy Urbanic found out that two of Fralic's teammates had been drinking beer. Urbanic knew who the offenders were, but he called a team meeting because he wanted them to admit their guilt. Urbanic said he wanted whoever was involved in the drinking episode to stand up. At first, no one stood or said anything. Then Fralic stood. "Coach," Fralic said, "I was there. I was drinking." Seven more players stood. Urbanic disciplined all eight and notified their parents.
"There was never anything phony about Billy," Fralic's father, Bill Sr., says. "He's always gone in the front door, with the brass band playing."
Which made a day in May 1982 all the more disheartening to Bill Sr. While attending the University of Pittsburgh, Bill Jr. would bring his dirty laundry to the family's nearby suburban home for his mother, Dorothy, to wash. One day he drove his '77 Thunderbird into the driveway, where his father was washing the family car. Later, when Bill Sr. washed his son's car and cleaned the interior, a bottle of pills fell from Bill Jr.'s golf bag. Bill Sr. went to see his pharmacist, who told him the pills were Dianabol, a muscle-enhancing (anabolic) steroid.
Bill Sr. returned home, flushed the pills down the toilet and confronted his son. Fralic, who was 6'5", 270 pounds and coming off a freshman season for which he was named an honorable-mention All-America, admitted he was four weeks into a six-week cycle of steroid use. "Everybody else is doing them," he told his father. "If I want to be a player, I've got to do them."
"You're crazy!" Bill Sr. railed. "You're big enough and strong enough! You don't need these!"
Fralic stopped taking steroids. The next fall he was first team All-America, but after the season, back in his local gym and in the Pitt weight room, Fralic felt the need to use steroids again. "I knew I was good," he says now, "but there's so much competition in the weight room. You want to be bigger and stronger each year, and you see other guys making these gains, and you want to make gains, too. That mind-set takes over."
So he started taking steroids again, this time more heavily. He took three Dianabol pills a day and had a weightlifting buddy inject him with Deca-Durabolin, another anabolic steroid, once a week.
But one night, five weeks into his six-week cycle of Dianabol and Deca-Durabolin, he threw the pills and the liquid and the syringes out of his car window. What changed his mind forever on using steroids was a troubled conscience. "What a conflict it was," Fralic says. "I get depressed talking about it. But the good thing about it is that I know anything I do now, I've done. I'd rather not do steroids [and fail] than do them and be a success."
It's another hot one in Atlanta, and 30 miles to the northeast, in Suwanee, new Falcon coach Jerry Glanville is running most of his players through voluntary workouts in a minicamp. Fralic is not participating on this day in May. He's attending to his off-season business, Bill Fralic Insurance Services Inc., and looking like the new junior partner on L.A. Law: Harry Hamlin haircut, blue suit, paisley tie, white shirt with blue pinstripes and WPF monogram on the left sleeve. The only indications that he is a football player are his bulging chest and gnarled right pinkie.
The 27-year-old Fralic looks as if he could be a spokesman for most any cause or concern. Though he doesn't want to be known as the leader of the antisteroid movement in football, it's a tag he is rapidly earning. He took up the challenge four years ago, after his rookie season, when he found the nerve to call Pete Rozelle and say, "You've got to do something about steroids. They're a huge problem in this league."