Nicknamed the “Mormon rifle,” Gifford Nielsen became BYU’s first Hall of Fame inductee in 1994. His prolific passing career began when he came off the bench in the third game of his sophomore season to lead the Cougars to a 16-15 come-from-behind win by completing 10 of 12 passes.
“From that point on,” Nielsen said, “everything clicked, and it’s just amazing what happened.” As a junior, in 1976, Nielsen really made fans sit up and notice. He passed for 3,192 yards and 29 touchdowns, set 13 WAC records and made All-American. Next season promised even more. He threw five touchdown passes against New Mexico, six against Utah State and was twice named Player of the Week. For the first time, a BYU football team was nationally ranked.
“It was like a little dream world,” said Nielsen, a product of Provo High School. “The numbers were just mind-boggling. Everything you could ever dream of as a kid in Provo, Utah, was in the palm of my hand.” On Oct. 8, 1977, his season and college career ended when he suffered a serious injury. He left a mark, however. Over three years Nielsen averaged an astounding 243 yards passing per game.
Nielsen played six years with the Houston Oilers and was the last quarterback to lead the Oilers to the AFC finals. He is currently a broadcaster in Houston. He and his wife Wendy have six children.
- Heisman Trophy
- Outland Trophy
- Doak Walker Award
- Coach of the Year
- Quarterback Honors
- Academic All-Americans
- All-Time Lettermen
- NFF College Hall of Fame