John Stofa, the quarterback who won the first game in Bengals franchise history, has died at age 79. Known as “The Original Bengal,” Stofa had recently battled Parkinson’s.
Stofa initially broke into the NFL with the expansion Miami Dolphins in 1966. Sandwiched between two stints with Miami was one season with the Bengals, who acquired Stofa in a trade that included sending Miami their expansion’s bonus picks in the first and second rounds. In Week 2 of the 1968 season, Stofa threw a pair of touchdown passes in Cincinnati’s 24-10 win over Denver, the first win in franchise history.
“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. “He had a lot of values we cherish. We admired the way he lived his life.”
Stofa started six more games that season while leading the AFL in touchdown/interception ratio. In the process, he achieved the distinction of throwing touchdown passes for two expansion teams.
“We wanted a veteran quarterback that could play. Someone who had some experience,” Mike Brown said. “He did what we hoped. He had moments where he was really pretty good.”
Stofa finished his career with the Dolphins while being part of Don Shula’s first team in Miami in 1970, the franchise’s first winning team. Stofa threw three touchdowns that season while backing up Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese.
Stofa, who began his playing career with a minor league team in Florida and finished it with the World Football League’s Jacksonville Sharks, was inducted into the University of Buffalo Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973. While his playing career in Cincinnati was brief, Stofa and his family continued to call Ohio and Cincinnati home well into retirement. Stofa, who worked in insurance after his playing days, was an avid golfer and valued member of Jefferson Country Club in Blacklick, Ohio. It was hard not to notice his arrival on the course, as Stofa’s car included the license plate title “1ST BNGL”.
“It was a real highlight just being selected as the first player Paul Brown wanted,” Stofa said back in 2017.