When BYU fans think back to “the glory days” of BYU Football we typically think of excellent quarterback play. I know I tend to think first of Marc Wilson, then Jim McMahon, and Steve Young…but do we give enough credit to Gifford Nielsen who came before all of them?
Nicknamed “The Mormon Rifle” for slinging the ball all over the place, Gifford Nielsen led the nation in touchdown passes and was second in total offense as a junior in 1976. He went on to be named first-team All-America by the Football Writers of America.
The WAC public service announcement at the end by Giff is just great.
This is a classy broadcast of Nielsen leading the Cougars to a 34-12 over the Utah Utes. While there isn’t a ton of film on Giff, its clear he was an athletic, mobile quarterback who could rifle that thing around to his receivers (shout out to Todd Christensen in this video).
Nielsen was considered the number two-ranked QB in the nation returning for his senior year. That year Nielsen was presented with the prestigious NCAA Top 5 Award.
He was a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy until suffering a season-ending knee injury. We may think of The Mormon Rifle a little differently had that injury not occurred and he is the first to win a Heisman for BYU.
The Houston Oilers selected him in the third round of the 1978 NFL Draft, which is impressive considering the injury. Nielsen played six seasons in the NFL, all with Houston.
In 1994 he became the first BYU Cougar to be inducted into the College Hall of Fame. Later in 2003, Nielsen was presented with the prestigious NCAA Anniversary Award.
What may be of note to many BYU fans is that on April 6, 2013, Gifford Nielsen was called as a general authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
On this 2014 Pioneer Day, lets remember The Mormon Rifle and what he did to lay down a solid foundation of QB play at BYU.