Tensi has had a reputation as a fine quarterback since he was at Florida State. That is not true in the case of the unfortunate Stofa. He played college football at the University of Buffalo, where passes were seldom thrown. The drafts skipped him. Months later Bud Asher, coach of the Daytona Beach Thunder-birds in the Southern Professional Football League, was looking at movies of the 1962 Buffalo-Colgate game and was struck by one long pass completed for a touchdown in a blizzard. "I figured a boy who could lay in a pass like that would be a heller in the sunshine," Asher said, and signed Stofa to a contract.
Stofa played for the Thunderbirds in 1964 and 1965 at a salary of $100 per game and took them to two championships. In those two years Stofa, son of a steelworker in Johnstown, Pa., threw 75 touchdowns and the Thunderbirds won 29 of 31 games. He got a 10-day trial with the Dolphins in 1966, was cut and spent six weeks with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "We had five or six quarterbacks in camp," says Steeler Backfield Coach Don Heinrich. "They couldn't get all the work they needed. John was subdued and tended to be behind in recognizing defenses. He was nervous and had a bad game against Minnesota. It was a tough situation, but when you're going against five other guys there won't be a second chance. We cut him the next day."
Being released by Pittsburgh caused Stofa to doubt himself. "When you fail twice in two months, you can't help wondering about yourself," he said before the Denver game last week.
Stofa got a job teaching elementary school in Daytona Beach and joined the Lakeland Club in the North American Football League, commuting 110 miles to practice. Midway last season Miami's bonus-boy Quarterback Norton got a broken jaw and Stofa got a phone call from the Dolphins.
"I couldn't tell them right away that I'd come," said Stofa. "I had a teaching contract, and it wouldn't have been ethical to leave without a release. But the school board was nice about it. I knew I had to try once more."
George Wilson Jr., son of the Miami coach, was the Dolphin quarterback by then. Stofa sat on the bench for seven weeks. In the final 1966 game against Houston, Wilson Jr. was out, Dick Wood got a sore arm warming up and, with five minutes' notice, Stofa became the starting quarterback. He hit 22 of 38 passes for 307 yards and four touchdowns, and Miami won, 29-28. In that one game the Dolphins set team offensive records in nine categories, and Stofa established five individual records.
Last July Stofa went to training camp to discover he was being rated behind two rookies—Griese, and Jon Brittenum of Arkansas. "The money those other guys got for signing doesn't bother me," said Stofa, who was drawing a $15,000 salary. "If money had anything to do with it, I wouldn't be here. When I see Griese throw the ball well, it makes me try harder. There's always going to be pressure. The sooner I get used to it, the better off I'll be. I keep telling myself this is not only my big chance, it's my last chance. I'm 25 and too many good quarterbacks are coming up."
Although Stofa was not, in Wilson's opinion, Miami's best quarterback mechanically, the coach settled on him because of his leadership qualities. "He picks up the team," Wilson said. "The club plays for him, and that's what a quarterback is for. Leadership is born with a man, not put in by coaches."
Stofa was good enough in the exhibition games to cause Miami to trade Brittenum to San Diego. He walked into the Dolphin locker room at the Orange Bowl last Sunday in exactly the position he had always wanted—No. 1 quarter-back on a professional football team, with Griese and Norton, the college heroes, waiting behind him.
On the first offensive play for Miami, Halfback Joe Auer swung down the sideline and Stofa hit him with a 45-yard pass. Then he passed to End Howard Twilley for six more yards to the Denver eight. On the third play Stofa kept the ball and ran around right end for a touchdown. After less than two minutes Miami led by seven points and Stofa looked less like an elementary schoolteacher than he did a Johnny Unitas.