Gifford Nielsen
Quarterback 14
203 lbs.
Last School
Provo High School
Roster Years


  • Born in Provo, Utah
  • Parents are Stan and Lois
  • Dad is a former BYU athlete
  • Married Wendy Olson, who was a cheerleader at both Provo High and at BYU
  • Public relations major
  • Daughter is Kacey

Career Highlights

  • Played basketball for BYU on the varsity squad for his first two years
  • Led the Cougars to a 28-14 homecoming victory over the Air Force Academy in his first start at quarterback
  • Led the nation in three passing categories, broke thirteen school records and set thirteen WAC records
  • Came in sixth nationally in the voting fo the Heisman Trophy his junior year
  • Named by the NCAA as a member of the College Athletics' Top Five in 1978

Before BYU

  • An all-state athlete in basketball and football at Provo High
  • All-America mention
  • Named the Outstanding Athlete in Utah his senior year
  • Won two football letters, three in basketball, three in golf
  • Played quarterback
  • Had a 3.3 GPA
  • Coached by Bry Lake (BYU) and Dick Hill (BYU)

After BYU

  • Drafted by the NFL's Houston Oilers and played with them for six years

Post BYU Honors and Societies

  • Inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame in 1987


YR     GM     ATT-CMP-INT     PCT     YDS     TD     LNG     AVG/G
1975    9     180-110-7       61.1   1471     10     -       163.4
1976   11     372-207-19      55.6   3192     29     -       290.2
1977    4     156-98-3        62.8   1167     16     -       291.8
1987 BYU Hall of Fame

1987 BYU Hall of Fame

While a student at Provo High School, Gifford Nielsen was a shining example of athletic prowess: all-state in football, all-state and state most valuable player in basketball, and all-region in golf. It's not surprising that he was named the Outstanding Athlete in Utah his senior year (1972-73).

Coming to BYU, Gifford continued with both basketball and football, playing on the varsity squad for both sports his first two years. After that, it was football all the way. The first game in which he started, in the quarterback position, was BYU's Centennial game in October 1975, where he led the Cougars to a 28-14 homecoming victory over the Air Force Academy.

During that season and the first half of the next Gifford led the nation in three passing categories, broke 13 school records, and set 13 Western Athletic Conference records. He came in sixth nationally in the voting for the Heisman Trophy his junior year, and was a good bet for winning it the next when an injury in a game against Oregon State in 1976 ended his collegiate career. His support and coaching of replacement quarterback Marc Wilson was recognized as a great example of sportsmanlike behavior, and contributed to his being named by the NCAA as a member of the College Athletics' Top Five in 1978, one whose "contributions to society go well beyond the playing field."

Other honors garnered by Gifford during his years at BYU were the WAC Freshman of the Year, WAC All-Academic and All-WAC, the Dale Rex and Ed Stein Awards, the Sports Writers All-American Team, and the UPI All-American Second Team - the first native Utahn to be named an All-American.

Drafted by the NFL's Houston Oilers, Gifford played with them for six years.

From 1984-87 he served as a color commentator on the Oilers' radio broadcasts. Nielsen was also the sports director at CBS affiliate KHOU in Houston from 1984-09.

In 1994 Nielsen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 2003 was given the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award for 25 years of distinguished service after his college athletic career.

Nielsen was called as a General Authority Seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 2013.

Freshman Year 1973

  • Was at the helm when the jayvee team posted a 4-0 record
  • Lettered in basketball
Sophmore Year 1975

  • Did not play in the first two games of the season
  • Was a reserve in the ASU contest (four for 11, one intercepted)
  • Came off the bench (4:08 remaining in third quarter) to salvage a 16-15 win over New Mexico
  • Thereafter had the starting berth
  • Best game was against Arizona (27 of 44 for 387 yards, two TDs)
  • Had weak first half, but came back to hit nine passes in a row
  • In game with Air Force (nationally ranked in pass defense, Falcons were holding opponents to 65 yards per game), connected on 14 of 19 for 229 yards
  • Subsequently named to UPI backfield of the week
  • Finished 10th in the NCAA in passing and 21st in total offense
  • Completion percentage of .6711 was a school record
  • Lettered in basketball
Junior Year 1976

  • Threw 18 passes for 200 yards against Arizona
  • Climax was a 43-yard TD pass to George Harris with :03 seconds to win the game
  • Consequently named WAC Player of the Week
  • Against Wyoming he was 24-42 for 324 yards passing and three TDs
  • Mostly acquired during last seven minutes of game
  • Cooked Arizona State with 224 yards on 14 catches in the first half
  • Was 23-31 for All-American Football Writers of America
  • Sixth in Heisman voting
  • Led NCAA with 29 TD passes
  • Second in NCAA total offense (2,919) and passing yards (3,192)
  • Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year
  • Set five WAC records
  • Had 445 yards and 3 TDs against Southern Miss
  • Set NCAA highs for the year with 468 yards passing, 455 yards rushing-passing and five TD passes against Utah State
  • For that performance was named to UPI Backfield of the Week and WAC Player of the Week
Senior Year 1977

  • Season-ending knee injury at Oregon State in the fourth quarter
Graduate Year

Redshirt Year 1974

Medical Redshirt Year 1974