With the 2023 NFL Draft on the horizon (April 27-29 in Kansas City), the Big Red Zone is looking back at each of the St. Louis Cardinals’s 28 drafts, starting in 1960. Each installment in the series will include a list of that year’s selections, an evaluation of each pick (based on what the player contributed to the Cardinals), and notes about some of the players. We begin the series with a story on the St. Louis team’s first draft pick: quarterback George Izo.
During their time in St. Louis (1960-87), the football Cardinals took 24 shots at drafting quarterbacks. They missed on only 22 of them.
With the exceptions of Charley Johnson and Neil Lomax, the other quarterbacks drafted contributed little to nothing to the Cardinals, played for other teams, or never played a single snap in the NFL. Four of the misfires came in the first round, starting, well, right from the start.
Although the Cardinals were still in Chicago when the 1960 draft was held on November 29, 1959, that is recognized as the first draft class in the team’s St. Louis history. And with their first pick in that draft (No. 2 overall), the Big Red selected Notre Dame quarterback George Izo.
(Izo also was a “territorial selection” of the New York Titans in the 1960 AFL draft. He chose to sign with the Cardinals—for $15,000, including a $2,000 signing bonus—not only because the AFL was just beginning but also because Chicago was geographically close to Notre Dame and he thought he could parlay his college stardom and, hopefully, success in the NFL into a lucrative off-the-field career in Chicago business. He even received a lucrative offer from Chicago radio station WGN. Alas, the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in March 1960.)
At Notre Dame, Izo followed in his father’s footsteps (George Izo Sr. had played quarterback for legendary coach Knute Rockne). Izo became the Irish’s starter as a sophomore in 1957, had an outstanding junior season in 1958, and was considered the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy going into his senior season. One scout called Izo “the finest pure passer in college today.” He was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
But … curses … Izo suffered a serious knee injury in practice just days before the 1959 season opener and didn’t return to full strength as a senior until Notre Dame’s final two games. He finished his college career with 2,095 passing yards and 18 touchdowns. His knee injury, however, was a red flag that the Cardinals should have heeded.
As a Cardinals rookie, Izo started the fourth game of the 1960 season, completing nine of 18 passes for 93 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in a 27-14 loss at Pittsburgh. In the following game, a 12-10 win at home over the Dallas Cowboys, Izo reinjured the knee he had hurt at Notre Dame when, on a running play, he pitched the ball to running back John David Crowe and became the lead blocker.
“I should have had the knee operated on, but I didn’t. I missed eight games and that really affected my progress my rookie year,” Izo said in a 2005 interview for a Washington Football Club message board.
Izo never played another game for the Cardinals. On September 9, 1961, the Cardinals traded him to Washington for Ralph Guglielmi in an exchange of former Notre Dame quarterbacks. Izo’s final stats for St. Louis: two games (one start), 24 pass attempts, 10 completions, 115 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions.
Izo played six more seasons in the NFL as a backup for Washington (1961-64), Detroit (1965) and Pittsburgh (1966). After the Steelers released him on November 2, 1966, Washington offered him $50,000 to come back as the backup behind Sonny Jurgensen, but Izo declined.
Despite a career that didn’t live up to expectations for either the Cardinals or Izo, he played his way into the NFL record book. In the 1963 season opener at Cleveland, Izo replaced Norm Snead with Washington trailing, 27-7, late in the third quarter. On his first play, Izo launched a long pass to Bobby Mitchell, who caught it near midfield and raced into the end zone for a 99-yard TD.
Izo became only the second NFL quarterback to complete a 99-yard scoring pass; the first to do it was another Washington quarterback, Frank Filchock, in 1939. Over the years, the 99-yard touchdown pass fraternity became a little less exclusive and now has 13 members.
Izo’s final NFL numbers: seven seasons, 26 games (five starts), 317 passes, 132 completions (41.6 percent), 1,791 yards, 12 touchdowns and 32 interceptions.
After he retired from football, Izo went to the Bahamas, where he built high-rise condominiums and coached two high school football teams. Later, he worked for the military division of Hidden Valley Ranch in California and organized trips with other former NFL players to U.S. military bases in Asia.
He died on June 10, 2022 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
From George Izo to Kelly Stouffer, let’s take a look a the other 23 quarterbacks that were drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals:
1960—Jacky Lee, 6th round/101 overall. Played for Houston (1960-63, 66-67); Denver (1964-65) and Kansas City (1967-69).
1960—Charley Johnson, 10th round/109 overall. Played for St. Louis (1961-69): 87 games, 69 starts, 2,047 passing attempts, 1,030 completions (51.2 percent), 14,928 yards, 108 touchdowns, 110 interceptions; Houston (1970-71) and Denver (1972-75).
1961—Dick Thornton, 6th round/85 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1962—Wilburn Hollis, 9th round/118 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1964—Jack Ankerson, 16th round/220 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1965—Joe Namath, 1st round/12 overall. Played for N.Y. Jets (1965-76) and L.A. Rams (1972). Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1966—Gary Snook, 4th round/58 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1966—Tim Van Galder, 6th round/88 overall. Played for St. Louis (1972): five games, five starts, 79 passing attempts, 40 completions (50.6 percent), 434 yards, one touchdown, seven interceptions.
1966—Benny Russell, 17th round/252 overall. Played in one game for Buffalo (1968).
1967—Vidal Carlin, 3rd round/69 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1969—Ed Roseborough, 14th round/357 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1970—Mike Holmgren, 8th round/201 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1971—Tim Von Dulm, 12th round/303 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1972—Mike Franks, 10th round/250 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1973—Gary Keithley, 2nd round/45th overall. Played for St. Louis (1973): 14 games, two starts, 73 pass attempts, 32 completions (43.8 percent), one touchdown, five interceptions.
1973—Eric Crone, 17th round/421 overall. Never played in the NFL.
1977—Steve Pisarkiewicz, 1st round/19th overall. Played for St. Louis (1978-79): nine games, four starts, 138 pass attempts, 62 completions (44.9 percent), three touchdowns, seven interceptions and Green Bay (1980): one game.
1980—Rusty Lisch, 4th round/89 overall. Played for St. Louis (1980-83): 23 games, one start, 30 pass attempts, 12 completions (40 percent), 134 yards, one touchdown, five interceptions and Chicago (1984).
1981—Neil Lomax, 2nd round/33 overall. Played for St. Louis (1981-87) and Phoenix (1988): 108 games, 101 starts, 3,153 pass attempts, 1,817 completions (57.6 percent), 22,771 yards, 136 touchdowns, 90 interceptions.
1984—Rick McIvor, 3rd round/80 overall. Played for St. Louis (1984-85): six games, no starts, four pass attempts, no completions.
1984—Kyle Mackey, 11th round/296 overall. Played for Miami (1987) and N.Y. Jets (1989).
1986—Kent Austin, 12th round/312 overall. Played for St. Louis (1986): 16 games, no starts, no pass attempts, one rush, zero yards.
1987—Kelly Stouffer, 1st round/6th overall. Played for Seattle (1988-89, 91-92).
Too bad for the Big Red and George Izo that the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx ruined what might have been a promising career. From what I understand he suffered that first knee injury not too long after he appeared on the cover.
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I think you are correct. Of course, that didn’t stop the Cardinals from drafting him in the first round!