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TDBH: Bengals get first player in trade for Stofa

Posted Dec 25, 2017

This Day in Bengals History - December 26, 1967

Bengals founder Paul Brown tips his hand early in what he values as he begins building his team for the upcoming season today when the former Massillon High School health instructor taps a school-teacher quarterback to be the first player on his roster. He obtains Dolphins back-up John Stofa in exchange for two bonus picks at the end of the first and second rounds in what is billed as the second year of the NFL-AFL common draft next month at New York City’s Belmont Plaza Hotel. Miami wants the Bengals’  second pick in the draft, but Brown turns them down before grudgingly giving up the 27th and 54th picks for the 25-year-old Stofa.  “I don’t intend to make a practice of giving up early draft choices, but we really wanted a player of Stofa’s caliber,”  Brown says.  Stofa has played just six quarters in what is bannered as a Horatio Alger story. Cut by the Dolphins and Steelers after he comes out of the University of Buffalo, Stofa labors in the minors with Orlando  of the Southern Football League before the Dolphins starter gets hurt at the end of the 1966 season. Stofa throws four touchdown passes before winning the 1967 job in the exhibition season. But he breaks his ankle four minutes into the season and rookie Bob Griese out of Purdue wins the job when the Dolphins win the last four games of the season.

When Stofa is activated for the last three games, it’s an open secret that Brown and Al LoCasale, his director of player personnel, are scouting him at practice. LoCasale actually signed Stofa when he was with the Chargers but the club let  him go against his wishes. Brown says that LoCasale “and the directors of the other AFL teams to a man feel that Stofa will give us a better start than any  college quarterback in the country.”  They are probably right until the 52nd pick when the Raiders take Ken Stabler. The first one isn’t drafted until the 11th pick when the Lions take Greg Landry out of the University of Massachusetts, followed by Eldridge Dickey, Gary Beban, and Mike Livingston, then Stabler. There are two other reasons Brown prefers a veteran quarterback over a rookie. He fears he could lose a rookie to either the military draft or the annual College All-Star Game, which takes players out of the first month of training camp.

When the trade is announced in Miami the Dolphins are ripped and head coach George Wilson doesn’t understand why. “I don’t know why everybody is excited about it,” Wilson says. “He was in a situation to be traded because our No. 1 quarterback is Griese. And, really, when you get down to it, Stofa was picked up as a free agent and he played very little football for us.” But The First Bengal is Brown’s kind of guy. He’s smart, stable, and talented as a married father of children ages two and one, and a schoolteacher in the offseason. “I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to play for a team coached by Paul Brown,” Stofa says. “I have read about him all my life. And his record speaks for itself. I’m delighted that he picked me.” Stofa spends only that first year with the Bengals before returning to Miami as Griese’s backup for two more seasons after the Bengals take University of Cincinnati quarterback Greg Cook with the fifth pick in the 1969 draft. Stofa also battles injuries in Cincinnati and wins two of his seven starts, but he supplies several lifetime moments, such as quarterbacking their first win ever in the 24-10 victory over Denver at Nippert Stadium in which he throws their first touchdown pass ever on a 58-yard bomb to rookie tight end Bob Trumpy.

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