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Catching up with John Stofa

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John Stofa admittedly was not the most phenomenal Bengals player, but he always will be the first.

As in, the first Bengal ever. In December 1967, the expansion Bengals made their first acquisition by trading two draft picks to the Miami Dolphins for quarterback Stofa.

Stofa thus is the only man who can and does have "1ST BNGL" on his Ohio license plates.

"I'm still very pleased and proud of that," said Stofa, now retired and living in Columbus. "You'd be surprised how many people remember that."

Stofa, who played college ball at Buffalo, was 25 years old when he joined the Bengals. One newspaper account said Stofa bore a physical resemblance to the great Johnny Unitas.

Stofa was the primary quarterback as the Bengals battled to a 3-11 record in 1968, Cincinnati's debut season in the old American Football League. Stofa that year threw for 896 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions.

The Bengals in 1969 drafted quarterback Greg Cook from the University of Cincinnati. Cook became an immediate star but injuries curtailed his career.

"Greg Cook did a terrific job," Stofa said. "It's too bad he had some of the injuries he did, or who knows what might have happened. We're still talking about him even today."

Stofa was still a Bengal when the 1969 season began, but he returned to the Dolphins that year as a free agent.

Stofa appeared in nine games for Miami over the 1969 and '70 seasons, but Bob Griese gradually seized the quarterback job. Griese went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Stofa was traded in 1971 to Denver but never played another NFL game. A shoulder injury ended Stofa's career during the 1972 preseason. Stofa finished his career with 1,758 yards passing, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The expansion Bengals of '68 were far ahead of the expansion Dolphins of '66 in terms of organization, Stofa said, mainly because of Bengals founder Paul Brown.

"Miami was somewhat chaotic," Stofa said. "In Cincinnati we hit the ground running, in a lot of respects. You had Paul Brown and a lot of good assistant coaches like Bill Walsh, Bill Johnson and many more."

Stofa, originally from Johnstown, Pa., lived in Cincinnati for many years after his playing career ended. Stofa worked in the health insurance business, and he moonlighted several years as a sideline reporter on University of Cincinnati football radio broadcasts. Stofa has lived the past 17 years in Columbus, and he retired six years ago.

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