Five years ago in the fourth game of his rookie season, Andy Dalton rallied the Bengals from a 17-3 halftime deficit to beat the Buffalo Bills 23-20.
One of the fans in attendance that day at Paul Brown Stadium was a 19-year-old Bills' supporter from Williamsville, NY named Joe Licata.
"It was my freshman year in college," said Licata. "It was a fun game – a lot of fun to watch. The Bills were undefeated and the Bengals beat them. We went to the Montgomery Inn for dinner. I remember the great food, the great views, and the awesome stadium."
The following year Licata became the starting quarterback at the University of Buffalo and after breaking most of the school's passing records, he signed with the Bengals in May as a college free agent.
"I was actually talking to my parents about that," Joe told me. "I think I've been to five NFL stadiums and it's just crazy that one of the them is the home of the team that I ended up with."
Licata's family had Bills' season tickets and one of his older sisters used to work for the team. But he didn't grow up dreaming of being the next Jim Kelly.
"I thought I was going to play basketball initially," said Licata. "My dad was a basketball coach and I always had a basketball in my hands."
Joe still holds the New York State public school record for career three pointers with 343 and once made 13 in a game. But oddly enough, it was a lousy performance at quarterback that made football his sport of choice.
"I started on the varsity as a sophomore and had a really bad game where I threw five interceptions against a crosstown rival," Joe told me. "After that I was like, 'This is what I want to do.' It was a new challenge in my life and I wanted to take it as far as it would take me. Here I am today."
Licata is one of four quarterbacks on the Cincinnati roster and figures to battle Keith Wenning in training camp for a spot on the practice squad.
"I really haven't thought about that too much to be honest," said Licata. "If you start worrying about the end goal and are not focused on today you're going to struggle."
Licata didn't get many offensive reps during the Bengals minicamp in June, so he tried to grasp the playbook by studying Andy Dalton.
"I'm trying to learn as much as I can from Andy," said Licata. "Starting for one season is tough, but starting for as many seasons as Andy has while having so much success – there's a formula for it and a reason why. I'm just trying to take it all in.
"He knows everything about this offense. The ins and outs, the checks, the protections, and what beats each defense. He's just so comfortable in this offense from studying it so hard and knowing it for so long. He absorbs coaching very well and is like a coach himself."
After watching Dalton from the Paul Brown Stadium seats in 2011, Licata appreciates the chance to be his teammate in 2016.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "All I wanted coming out of college was a fair chance to make a team and make my dream a reality. The Bengals have given me that opportunity so I am forever grateful."
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