NOTE: These all-time draft posts are re-posts from previous years. Since there haven't been many changes over the years, our top-10 lists are relatively the same.
Bengals center Bob Johnson will always be remembered as the first player ever drafted by (this version of) the Cincinnati Bengals. (Note: we've actually had more than one franchise that was named "Bengals" in Cincinnati, dating back to the mid-to-late-30s). Regardless, the legendary Paul Brown received approval from Cincinnati to build a football team in 1967 and naturally, wanted players who meshed well with his personality. He also wanted to address the most important position.
You're only as good as your offensive line, which protects the quarterback and opens lanes for the running game, is something we imagine Brown schooling the world on. Brown began work with what he believed was the most vital position of all... center. Back when football was a tougher and grittier version of what we see today, centers called blocking schemes (many still do that today) and was the foundation of most running plays. The better the center, where every offensive play starts, the better the offensive line played all around.
This was also a time when the Senior Bowl had a slight rivalry. A sense of pride existed, much like baseball's All Star game in the 70's. Heading into the 1968 Senior Bowl, the South squad had only won two of their previous 11 games. And Tennessee center Bob Johnson thought it was time to rectifying that.
"There was a definite feeling on our team that we wanted to do something about the South's poor showing in the all-star games and the bowl games," said Johnson at the time, whose Tennessee team lost in the Orange Bowl to Oklahoma.
"The Senior Bowl is the biggest among them, even if the Southeastern Conference went 1-4 in the bowl games like we did, I feel we made up a lot of ground by winning this one."
The South won 34-21.
After graduating with honors in engineering, Johnson entered the 1968 NFL Draft and was selected second overall behind Hall of Fame offensive tackle Ron Yary -- there were 10 offensive lineman selected in the first round that year, which is still a record in the modern draft. Nicknamed "the Original Bengal", Johnson holds the distinction of being the first Bengals player ever drafted. The selection was made on June 14, 1968 with Paul Brown saying that the signing "ensures us he'll be in professional football for a long time." Johnson would be a team captain during his tenure in Cincinnati.
During the final game of the 1978 regular season, the Bengals honored Johnson as the "original" Bengal, playing 11 seasons with the team. The team presented Johnson with a silver service set and his own uniform to keep. Most importantly, they retired his number after the game against the Cleveland Browns. Again... he holds the distinction of being the only Bengals player with a retired number -- though no one has worn No. 78 since Anthony Munoz either.
Retirement didn't last long for Johnson. After Blair Bush suffered a knee injury in 1979, the Bengals asked Johnson to come out of retirement as a long-snapper on punts, field goals and extra points. He obliged:
"I think it's a cute situation," joked Johnson. "I told Mike Brown that I wouldn't charge him much to do this, but he'll have to pay a price to get my jerseys back. I'm viewing this as a five-week thing to help the team out of a spot. I think I owe them this sort of thing. There's no way I'm coming out of retirement. I don't want to put my 220 pounds against (290-pound Houston nose guard) Curley Culp any more than I have to," Johnson said.
In 1976, Johnson said:
"You know, it doesn't seem like nine years since I joined the Bengals, but if you go back year-by-year we have played so many games that it seems like more than nine years."
"Personally, I am glad to be here. People kid me about being the original Bengal, but I've seen everything that's ever happened to this franchise. It gets exciting sometimes to think back to the first training camp we ever had and see the type of team we have now."