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George Izo, backup QB for Washington, other NFL teams, dies at 84

George Izo, far left, prepares for a college all-star game with Coach Otto Graham, second from right, and quarterbacks Don Meredith of Southern Methodist, second from left, and Pete Hall of Marquette, right. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

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

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

Mr. Izo (pronounced Eye-zoh) was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was a college player at Notre Dame and was chosen as the second pick in the 1960 NFL draft by the Cardinals, during the franchise’s first year in St. Louis. (The team now plays in Arizona.)

In 1961, he was traded to Washington, where he became an understudy to Norm Snead and, later, Sonny Jurgensen. Mr. Izo did not start a game for the Redskins, as the team was then called, but he did make an unforgettable play on Sept. 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 its own 1-yard line.

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

Bobby Mitchell, electrifying Hall of Famer and Redskins’ first black star, dies at 84

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 backup to Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh — teamed up with Andy Farkas against Pittsburgh.

Both plays were witnessed by longtime Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich.

“No substitute quarterback was ever more instantaneous or spectacular a success,” Povich wrote of Mr. Izo in 1963. “Izo threw the ball [50] yards in the air, and waiting for it was Bobby Mitchell, no less. ... On his first play of the game, Izo wrote himself into the record books as co-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 a 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 rookie year with the Cardinals.

George William Izo was born Sept. 20, 1937, in Barberton, Ohio. His father, who worked at a chemical factory, had played football at Notre Dame under Coach Knute Rockne in the 1920s before having to leave school because of an injury.

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

In 1958, before a crowd of 57,773 in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, Mr. Izo led Notre Dame to a 40-20 win over Navy.

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

Mr. Izo grew to be a powerful 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, but knee injuries held him back. Late in the 1959 season, he had recovered and took over as starting quarterback. In Notre Dame’s final two games, he led the Irish to upset wins over Iowa, 20-19, and seventh-ranked Southern California, 16-6.

In the Iowa game, he threw for three touchdown passes, including a 56-yard game-winner to halfback George Sefcik in the fourth quarter.

Mr. Izo graduated in 1960 and began his pro 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 company. He later moved to Arizona, where he coached football and taught at a Navajo Nation high school. He lived in California for several years before settling in Northern Virginia.

He was active in NFL alumni events and helped organize overseas tours of U.S. military bases for former players, including Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Ken Stabler and former Washington quarterback 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, N.J., 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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