1960s NFL quarterback George Izo dies at 84

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George Izo, who was a backup quarterback in the NFL for seven years, including four in Washington, and shares an unbreakable professional football record for longest touchdown pass, died June 11 at a retirement center in Alexandria , Virginia. He was 84 years old.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said his son, Erik Izo.

Mr. Izo (pronounced Eye-zoh) graced the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was a college player at Notre Dame and was selected as the second pick in the 1960 NFL Draft by the Cardinals, in the freshman year of the franchise in St. Louis. (The team now plays in Arizona.)

In 1961, he was transferred to Washington, where he became the understudy of Norm Snead and, later, of Sonny Jurgensen. Mr. Izo did not start a game for the Redskins, as the team was then called, but he did have an unforgettable game on September 15, 1963 in Cleveland.

It was the first game of the season, and the Redskins trailed 27-7 when head coach Bill McPeak sent Mr. Izo into the game in the third quarter. Washington had the ball on his own 1-yard line.

On his first play, Mr Izo faked a pass, then retreated under pressure in the end zone before throwing a long down pass. Washington wide receiver Bobby Mitchell caught the ball about the 40-yard line and then passed Cleveland defenders to the goal line.

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It was only the second time in NFL history that a 99-yard touchdown pass had been completed. The first was in 1939, when another Washington quarterback, Frank Filchock — a replacement for Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh — teamed up with Andy Farkas against Pittsburgh.

Both plays were observed by longtime Washington Post sports reporter Shirley Povich.

“No backup quarterback was ever a more instant or spectacular success,” Povich wrote of Mr. Izo in 1963. “Izo kicked the ball [50] meters in the air, and waiting was Bobby Mitchell, no less. … In his first game of the game, Izo entered the record books as the joint holder of the mark for the longest touchdown pass.

Since then, there have been 11 more 99-yard touchdown passes in the NFL.

Mr. Izo threw for eight touchdowns in a Washington uniform before being traded to the Detroit Lions in 1965. He had one final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1966 before retiring from football. He finished his career with 12 touchdown passes. The only time he played for a winning team was his freshman year with the Cardinals.

George William Izo was born on September 20, 1937 in Barberton, Ohio. His father, who worked in a chemical plant, had played football at Notre Dame under coach Knute Rockne in the 1920s before he had to drop out of school due to injury.

In high school, young Mr. Izo was an outstanding performer in basketball and baseball and an all-state quarterback in football. He followed his father to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., during a time when the Irish soccer team was struggling.

In 1958, in front of a crowd of 57,773 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Mr. Izo led Notre Dame to a 40-20 victory over the Navy.

“Using the wing-T formation for the first time,” New York Times reporter Allison Danzig wrote, “and with newly promoted quarterback George Izo completing nine of fourteen passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns in first half – one of the greatest displays of aerial skill in Notre Dame history – the Fighting Irish turned the game into a rout in the second quarter.

Mr. Izo grew into a mighty 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, but knee injuries held him back. By the end of the 1959 season, he had recovered and taken over as the starting quarterback. In Notre Dame’s last two games, he led the Irish to shock wins over Iowa, 20-19, and seventh-seeded Southern California, 16-6.

In the game against Iowa, he threw three touchdown passes, including a 56-yard win over running back George Sefcik in the fourth quarter.

Mr. Izo graduated in 1960 and began his professional career. After retiring from football, he worked in condominium sales in the Bahamas, then returned to the Washington area and became a partner in a wholesale food business. He then moved to Arizona, where he coached football and taught at a Navajo Nation high school. He lived for several years in California before settling in Northern Virginia.

He was active in NFL alumni events and helped organize overseas visits to U.S. military bases for former players, including Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Ken Stabler and former quarterback -Washington fullback Billy Kilmer.

His marriages to Anita Rowland and Deborah Spivey ended in divorce. Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Erik Izo of Maplewood, NJ, and Amy Mann Fang of Arlington, Va.; a daughter from his second marriage, Lillianna Izo of Richmond; a brother; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.


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