An hour or so before the kickoff against the Denver Broncos last week, a tall, young, pleasant-looking elementary schoolteacher named John Stofa undressed in front of his cubicle in the Miami Dolphins' locker room at the Orange Bowl. Stofa hung his white shirt and gray-plaid suit on a hook a few feet from the street clothes of two much more highly paid and famous quarterbacks—Bob Griese and Rick Norton. After loosening up on the field during a warm and humid Miami afternoon, Stofa pulled on a pale-blue Dolphin jersey with No. 15 on it and ran out to lead his team while Griese and Norton went to the bench. It was the sort of thing that dreamers thrive on.
Four hours later the white shirt and gray-plaid suit were still hanging on the hook, but Stofa was not there to wear them. He was at Mercy Hospital, awaiting an operation on a broken ankle and a sprained knee. Stofa had lasted a bit less than five minutes against Denver. Griese, the rookie from Purdue, was now the new Miami quarterback, and Stofa's opportunity was gone, perhaps for the season, perhaps forever.
When he saw Stofa down and unmoving near the Miami goal line early in the first quarter, Griese was thinking of what he had to do. He did not watch as trainers taped Stofa's ankles together and brought out the stretcher. Griese is only 22 and is less than four months out of college, and this was Miami's first American Football League game of the year. In exhibition games he had thrown six passes and completed one while Dolphin Coach George Wilson was trying to decide which of his quarterbacks he would use on opening day.
"I was thinking what plays we would run," Griese said, describing how he reacted as Stofa was carried from the field. "I was thinking what was safe, what would work. As a quarterback, you have got to be ready. I wasn't apprehensive. I knew what my guys could do. It was their guys that bothered me."
That was a matter that was also puzzling to the Broncos. Denver is a rebuilt team with the stress on youth. Among the 22 offensive and defensive starters, five are rookies and eight are beginning their second season. The young Broncos held together very well during the exhibitions, beating both Detroit and Minnesota of the National Football League. But two weeks ago Denver was humbled 51-0 by Oakland.
Part of the blame for that swamping loss went to the absence of Cookie Gilchrist, who is out for most of the season with a knee injury. Gilchrist was Denver's policeman and as a pass-blocking fullback had few peers at picking up blitzing linebackers. Without Gilchrist to contend with, the Raiders poured in on Quarterback Steve Tensi and limited the Bronco passing to two completions for a total of minus yardage.
"We miss Cookie a lot," said Tensi as he prepared for the game with Miami. "With all our rookies, we need some old heads in there to keep us steady. A smart team can jump on our mistakes."
The Raiders leaped up and down on Denver mistakes like acrobats on a trampoline, but Bronco Coach and General Manager Lou Saban accepted the pummeling with outward tranquillity. He merely pointed out to the players which ones had been the worst offenders. Then he put the Broncos through a long work week and loaded them aboard a plane for the flight to Miami.
Tensi, who had played his college football in Florida, was eager for a good performance in the Orange Bowl. Like Stofa, he was getting his first chance at a regular big-league job. But while Stofa was playing in the minors, where the Dolphins found him, Tensi was spending two seasons behind John Hadl at San Diego. He was traded to Denver this year for two future first-round draft choices, which is a cheap price if Tensi makes it and a stiff one if he does not.
" Sid Gillman [San Diego Coach] called me in awhile back and told me he'd done me a favor, traded me to Denver," said Tensi, who is 6'5" and wears his hair in long sideburns like an electric-guitar player. "I said, Thanks, see you later.' I was very happy about it. There is a great difference in playing for Denver and playing for San Diego. In San Diego our ready book of plays to use in a game was the size of the Miami telephone book. In 60 minutes you couldn't use half of it. In Denver our ready book is about half the size of the Miami Yellow Pages. It's a much simpler offense. It's great for a quarterback. You hear it, you know it, it clicks. At San Diego we had meetings from 8 a.m. until midnight with practices in between. If I'd been paid by the hour at San Diego, I'd be a millionaire today."