BYU player named to hall of fame

Although his stellar college career was cut short by an injury, former BYU quarterback Gifford Nielsen has become the first BYU football player named to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Nielsen, Young Men president in the Sugarland 1st Ward, Houston Texas South Stake, was honored during halftime of the BYU-New Mexico football game Sept. 24. A plaque recognizing his membership in the hall of fame was presented to be displayed at BYU. He will be officially inducted during ceremonies at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in December. The hall of fame is in Kings Island, Ohio, but plans are under way to move it to South Bend, Ind. The College Football Hall of Fame is sponsored by the National Football Foundation. Also included among the 14 new members of the hall will be former University of Pittsburgh and Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and former Georgia coach Vince Dooley.Currently sports director at KHOU-TV in Houston, and a former Provo, Utah, resident, Nielsen helped usher in the string of outstanding Cougar quarterbacks under head coach Lavell Edwards. An all-stater in football and basketball at Provo High School, Nielsen pursued both sports at BYU.

A reserve on the football team as a sophomore, he was called on to replace injured Mark Giles in the fourth game of the 1975 season. New Mexico led the Cougars 12-0 at the time, but Nielsen completed 10 of 12 passes (a WAC record at the time) to rally his team to a 16-15 victory. The next week he was the starter in a 28-14 win over Air Force. BYU went 5-2 the rest of the season and Nielsen turned his full attention to football.

Picking up where he left off, he had an outstanding junior season. He was the Football Writers of America All-America quarterback and was sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He led the nation in touchdown passes with 29 and threw for a total of 3,192 yards. With him calling the signals on the field, the Cougars went 9-2 during the regular season and were invited to the Tangerine Bowl.

With the nation's best quarterback returning, hopes were high for BYU football and Nielsen in 1977. The veteran got things rolling with three straight lopsided wins before disaster struck at Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. After going ahead 19-0, BYU watched the game unravel. As the game was slipping away in the third quarter, Nielsen went down with a knee injury that wiped out the rest of his college career.

But in spite of the fact that he played very little until the middle of his sophomore year and had half of his senior season wiped out, Nielsen still ranks among the best BYU quarterbacks. For his career, he had a 145.2 pass efficiency rating, the best in history at that time. He completed 415 of 708 passes for 5,833 yards and 55 touchdowns.

Even after his injury, the Houston Oilers had enough confidence in Nielsen to draft him third in the 1978 NFL draft. He played there for six years, hampered by various injuries. He did hold the starting role for a time and led the team to a playoff-game win over the San Diego Chargers in 1979.

He retired in 1984 to join the KHOU-TV news team where he has worked since.

His stake president, Bevan Blake, said the former sports star is a great asset in the Church. "The kids love him; he speaks at a lot of firesides. He is a very fine man and a good representative of the Church. He is well-liked in the community."

He has previously served in the Church as an elders quorum president and as a counselor in the stake mission presidency.

He is currently on the executive board of the Boy Scouts of America Sam Houston Area Council. The Houston Junior Chamber of Commerce selected him as a "Top 20 Outsanding Young Houstonian" in 1985. He was inducted into the Utah Hall of Fame in 1971.

He and his wife, Wendy, have six children.

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