John Stofa, the former quarterback known as “the Original Bengal” because he was the first player on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster, died over the weekend at age 79, the team confirmed Monday.
Stofa only played the inaugural 1968 season with the franchise but lived most of his life in Cincinnati. In September 1968, Stofa helped the Bengals to their first victory at the home opener of their inaugural season as an AFL expansion team – 24-10 against the Denver Broncos – at Nippert Stadium, which served as the team’s home field until Riverfront Stadium was completed in 1970.
“You start out in football with first things first,” former Bengals owner Paul Brown told reporters, per Enquirer archives. “Taking Johnson as a center to work with (quarterback) John Stofa, who we already have, is like building down the middle on a baseball team. He’s like getting a good catcher in baseball to work with your standout pitcher.”
“He was more than that to a lot of us. Just a really good guy we’ve known for a long time,” said Bengals president Mike Brown, per Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson. “He had a lot of values we cherish. We admired the way he lived his life.”
Stofa, who recently battled Parkinson’s, displayed a “1ST BNGL,” Ohio license plate and carried the title of First Bengal with a quiet pride and grace that defined his up-from-the-bootstraps climb from a cold weather small school to NFL quarterback.
“It was a real highlight just being selected as the first player Paul Brown wanted,” Stofa said in a 2017 Hobson’s Choice Podcast on Bengals.com celebrating the team’s 50th anniversary.
When Stofa surfaced in Cincinnati right after the trade, the only other Bengals around were Paul Brown and his son, 32-year-old assistant general manager Mike, a former Dartmouth quarterback. Stofa and Mike threw together at Princeton High School as the team was formed.
“That’s how it was. If I was a receiver, we had no receiver. It was a fond memory of mine,” Mike Brown said. “He used to kid me about that. Because I would tell him, ‘Hell, I can throw the ball better than you can throw the ball.’ He used to pretend. To say that might be true just to get me talking so I could make a fool of myself. We had fun with it.”
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