NOVEMBER 2, 1959
Last Saturday former Pro Bowl quarterbacks Billy Kilmer and Ken Stabler boarded a plane for a 10-day trip to visit U.S. troops in Japan, South Korea, Okinawa and Guam. Joining them was another onetime NFL quarterback, albeit a more obscure one—George Izo, 60, who's calling the signals on this team because, well, it's his job.
For the last five years Izo has taken former NFL stars to military bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam in his role as business development manager for California Sunshine milk. (The company has a contract with the U.S. government and sent 12 million pounds of its product to overseas bases last year.) Izo made his first tour with Kilmer, who has made every trip since then; other fellow travelers have included Paul Hornung and Earl Morrall. At each stop the players go to the commissary or PX and sign autographs by the hundreds. Many of the servicemen hadn't been born when these players were NFL standouts, but the troops turn out, hungry for a taste of home. "When Hornung was in Okinawa," Izo says of the former Green Bay Packers great, "there must have been 50 guys in cheeseheads."
Izo doesn't just run the autograph sessions, he signs as well. Troops who've read about his career in Stars and Stripes articles promoting his tour bring copies of the NFL record book for him to sign. Izo is one of nine players who share the mark for the longest pass completion, 99 yards. While with the Washington Redskins in 1963, Izo hooked up with Bobby Mitchell on that play.
Where Izo made his name, however, was at Notre Dame. From 1957 through '59 he threw for 2,095 yards and 18 touchdowns, and led the Irish to a 20-19 upset of Iowa in his next to last game. Described by one scout as "the finest pure passer in college today," Izo was the No. 2 pick in the 1960 NFL draft, by the St. Louis Cardinals. But he was beset by knee injuries and never played more than six games in a season while bouncing from St. Louis to Washington to Detroit to Pittsburgh. He left the pros in 1967 and moved to the Bahamas, joining a business venture that built condominiums. Five years later he returned to Washington, D.C., and became a partner in a wholesale food company; he has worked in the food industry regularly ever since.
Living in Fullerton, Calif., Izo goes to the Notre Dame-USC game whenever it's played in Southern California. He says he has a good time even when the Irish lose. At a pregame alumni event this year Izo and his wife, Deborah, chatted with fellow alum Regis Philbin (class of '53). "He remembered me," said Izo, laughing. "He gave me an autograph that said, 'Each day I wish I was George Izo.' "