Alumni Focus: John Frank Back
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
John Frank left the NFL at the height of his career to become a doctor.
For starters, John Frank is not your average ex-NFL player. The former San Francisco 49ers tight end turned plastic surgeon is now setting his sights toward the 2006 Winter Olympics, where he plans to serve as a member of the Israeli bobsled team.
A second round pick by San Francisco in the 1984 NFL Draft, the Ohio State alum initially served as a backup behind Russ Francis. Frank soon gained a reputation within the NFL for his fierce, unrelenting play and as a tenacious blocker.
Four years into his career, Frank became a starter and progressed to the point that Head Coach Bill Walsh once said he was “probably the most underrated of any player we ever had.”
“He was one of those guys that just gave 110 percent effort all the time,” quarterback Joe Montana recalled. “He was undersized as a tight end, but he was just a feisty fighting guy. He never gave up on you and he worked hard all the time, both on and off the field.”
In his five years with the team, Frank won two Super Bowls and recorded 65 receptions for 662 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the waning moments of Super Bowl XXIII, Montana tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to Frank. Ironically, that would be the last catch of his career.
“Not to take anything away from football, it’s a great sport,” Frank said after his retirement. “I’m happy to have played, happy to have grown up in an area where football was important. I just didn’t want it to become the focus of my life. I wasn’t searching for that. There are more things out there.”
Even though Frank retired at the peak of his playing career, the move didn’t surprise many. During each offseason with the 49ers, Frank retreated to his home in Columbus, OH in order to take pre-med classes at Ohio State University. As a former three-time Academic All-American with a 3.8 grade point average, Frank believed he was losing his academic edge.
“It came to the point that I needed to be a full-time med student,” Frank said. “I was afraid of being too immersed in the NFL. I was afraid I’d never have the opportunity to come back (to medical school).”
“Some players use their brains when they think about their post career and others go on until we can’t take it any more,” Montana stated. “But John knew what his calling was and what he wanted to do. I think it’s great when people have that kind of foresight.”
Frank completed his medical degree in 1992 before embarking on a six-year residency at Loyola University in Chicago. In 2000, he opened up his own private practice in San Francisco, specializing in facial plastic surgery and hair restoration.
“Three-quarters of my clients for the restorations are men,” Frank said. “That’s very gratifying. It’s nice to help somebody turn back the hands of time.”
Frank’s ever so interesting life doesn’t stop there. In the 2006 Winter Olympics, he plans to bump and skid along an icy track at speeds reaching 100 MPH as the brakeman for the Israeli bobsled team.
Frank, along with teammate Aaron Zeff, who’s a former U.S. fighter pilot and current San Francisco businessman, both are of Jewish descent and have received permission from Israel to represent the country in the upcoming Games.
The two have been competing in the ‘B’ circuit on the America’s Cup Tour for the past two winters. If they succeed and qualify for the Winter Olympics, it would be the first sport other than ice skating that had Israeli representation.
“It’s scary,” Frank explained. “It’s exhilarating. It’s challenging and it’s fun. It encompasses so many emotions. From an athletic perspective, it’s really gratifying and rewarding to be competing again.”