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Bengals Mourn First Player John Stofa

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Geoff Hobson

John Stofa, the varsity teacher-quarterback Paul Brown entrusted along with his Child Bengals and engineered the primary victory in franchise historical past, died this previous weekend at 79.

Generally known as “The Authentic Bengal,” Stofa performed solely in that inaugural 1968 season with the membership, however he equipped some memorable firsts earlier than settling in Cincinnati for many of his life.

“He was greater than that to a whole lot of us. Only a actually good man we have identified for a very long time,” mentioned Bengals president Mike Brown, a good friend for the reason that days Stofa was the one participant on the roster. “He had a whole lot of values we cherish. We admired the best way he lived his life.”

Stofa, who just lately battled Parkinson’s, displayed a “1ST BNGL,” Ohio license plate and carried the title of First Bengal with a quiet pleasure and beauty that outlined his up-from-the-bootstraps climb from a chilly climate small faculty to NFL quarterback.

“It was an actual spotlight simply being chosen as the primary participant Paul Brown needed,” Stofa mentioned in a 2017 Hobson’s Alternative Podcast on Bengals.com celebrating the workforce’s fiftieth anniversary.

Requested if he felt strain as the primary participant for an enlargement workforce, Stofa recalled that relationship with Brown, the Bengals founder returning to the sport after a Corridor-of-Fame run in Cleveland.

“Simply the other. It was an actual deep feeling of a perception in your self and you recognize you are able to do it if you happen to needed to do it,” Stofa mentioned. “We talked not solely soccer however private, too. He was a very good man … Folks do not perceive. They’d see that powerful wanting picture on the market and (say) this man would not care about something. It isn’t true. He does care concerning the gamers and the way they had been doing personally.”

Stofa, then 25, spent extra time with Brown than most of his gamers as a result of he was his solely participant for a couple of month after Brown swung that day-after-Christmas commerce with the Dolphins in 1967. After scouting Stofa at a Miami apply late within the season, Brown determined to ship the Dolphins his enlargement workforce’s bonus picks on the finish of the primary and second rounds.

“I do not intend to make a apply of giving up early draft selections,” mentioned Paul Brown after dealing the twenty seventh and 54th picks, “however we actually needed a participant of Stofa’s caliber.”

Stofa was the quintessential Paul Brown participant. Brown, the previous Massillon Excessive Faculty well being teacher, turned drawn to Stofa’s brains and his offseason job as an elementary faculty trainer in Daytona Seaside, Fla., whereas enjoying within the minor leagues.

It was that stint with the Thunderbirds that gave Stofa a shot with the Dolphins late within the 1966 season, giving him the excellence of throwing landing passes for 2 totally different enlargement groups. After popping out of the College of Buffalo throwing “4 to 5 occasions a sport,” Stofa mentioned the Thunderbirds threw it 40 and 50 and taught him the artwork of studying defenses. He sparkled for the Dolphins, throwing 4 landing passes in six quarters and received the job within the 1967 coaching camp earlier than breaking his ankle 4 minutes into the preseason.

When Stofa got here again late within the yr, everybody knew Paul Brown and his personnel man Al LoCasale had been in Miami searching for a quarterback.

“(Everybody) thought they had been taking a look at Rick Norton,” mentioned Stofa of the Kentucky quarterback the Dolphins took with the second decide within the 1966 AFL Draft.

However nobody knew that just a few years earlier when LoCasale was the personnel man in San Diego, the Chargers preferred Stofa sufficient to ship him to the minors for seasoning.

When Stofa surfaced in Cincinnati proper after the commerce, the one different Bengals round had been Paul Brown and his son, 32-year-old assistant basic supervisor Mike, a former Dartmouth quarterback. Stofa and Mike threw collectively at Princeton Excessive Faculty because the workforce was shaped.

“That is the way it was. If I used to be a receiver, we had no receiver. It was a fond reminiscence of mine,” Mike Brown mentioned. “He used to child me about that. As a result of I might inform him, ‘Hell, I can throw the ball higher than you’ll be able to throw the ball.’ He used to faux. To say that is likely to be true simply to get me speaking so I may make a idiot of myself. We had enjoyable with it.”

Accidents adopted Stofa to Cincinnati, however after he missed the Bengals’ first sport ever in San Diego (a 27-13 loss began by rookie Dewey Warren), he began the Sept. 15, 1968 dwelling opener the subsequent week and gunned landing passes of 58 and 54 yards to tight finish Bob Trumpy and huge receiver Warren McVea, respectively, for the primary landing passes in Bengals historical past throughout a 24-10 victory at Nippert Stadium.

The Child Bengals turned the discuss of the stroll the subsequent week when Stofa began one other dwelling sport the Bengals received once they beat the Payments, 34-23, to go to 2-1. They did not win for eight extra weeks, till Stofa got here off the bench in aid of Sam Wyche at, of all locations, Miami, and hit six of eight passes for 138 yards and a landing.

“We needed a veteran quarterback that might play. Somebody who had some expertise,” Mike Brown mentioned. “He did what we hoped. He had moments the place he was actually fairly good.”

They completed 3-11, however lifelong friendships had been constructed on a workforce that turned a cornerstone of their adopted metropolis. When the Bengals received the 1970 AFC Central with that corps of gamers, they had been thought to be essentially the most profitable enlargement workforce in sports activities historical past.

And the cross to Trumpy was not solely the Bengals’ first landing throw, nevertheless it turned a 50-year plus gag for the tandem. Trumpy would child Stofa about throwing it three yards and he did the remainder. Stofa would reply that Trumpy by no means ran that far in his life. The wives of Stofa, Wyche, Trumpy and Mike Brown are mates to today.

“They had been all shut,” Stofa instructed Bengals.com. “Discuss constructing a chemistry. That was a very good begin with it. Folks really feel part of it and also you make mates and also you need to do it collectively. I feel one of many causes the Bengals had early success was getting the proper individuals on board, the proper chemistry …. And that is not straightforward to do. It is the gamers that make it work.”

Katie and John Stofa felt so snug that aside from a spate of about 15 years in Columbus, Ohio, Cincinnati has been dwelling for them and their grandchildren whereas he labored in insurance coverage. And that included within the early Nineteen Seventies, when Stofa had one other stint in Miami in addition to the World Soccer League.

“Cincinnati is a superb city,” Stofa mentioned in 2017. “Our kids had been born right here. They made a whole lot of mates and we made lots mates right here. We constructed our dwelling right here. After I was enjoying, we would come again within the offseason.”

The hometown quarterback did have a brush with Hollywood even earlier than he turned a Bengal. Whereas Stofa was in Miami, phrase got here to him that the individuals making the film “Paper Lion,” hoped he may spend time with the star, an up-and-coming actor named Alan Alda.

Alda portrayed George Plimpton’s chaotic coaching camp adventures with the Detroit Lions whereas writing a ebook on attempting to play quarterback and Stofa was signed as much as assist Alda with the basics. He recalled they gave him just a few strains and when the movie got here out in 1968, it turned out to be one of many movies Paul Brown preferred to indicate his workforce the evening earlier than a sport.

“OK guys, be prepared. There I’m,” is what Stofa mentioned he instructed his mates earlier than his “temporary,” look. “You understand how it’s. I used to be harassed just a little bit, nevertheless it was all in enjoyable.”

Stofa mentioned his character did not have a reputation and it appears to be like like he did not get a solid credit score.

“I used to be simply one of many backup quarterbacks that was anonymous,” Stofa mentioned.

Not within the manufacturing Paul Brown created, the place he’ll all the time be a number one man.

The Authentic.

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