Brigham Young University will honor one of its legendary quarterbacks as grand marshal of the 2007 Homecoming parade on Saturday, Sept. 22. The selection of Gifford Nielsen to lead the parade followed another honor earlier in the month when his and fellow football great Ty Detmer’s jerseys were retired at the opening football game Sept. 1 against Arizona.
The parade will begin at 9 a.m. in the Marriott Center east parking lot and conclude at the Smith Fieldhouse.
The Provo native was an All-American quarterback under legendary coach LaVell Edwards and was one in a string of exceptional quarterbacks that began in the early 1970s. Nielsen, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and recipient of the prestigious NVAA Silver Anniversary award, had an admirable career that included passing more than 5,800 yards and collecting 55 touchdowns. He earned All-American honors in 1976 and led the NCAA in touchdown completions, ranked second in total offense and helped the Cougars to their first national ranking.
Nielsen, who could have played several sports at the varsity level at BYU, left the school with many honors, including WAC Rookie of the year, WAC all-academic and all-WAC quarterback, the Dale Rex and Ed Stein Awards, the Sports Writers All-American Team, and the UPI All-American 2nd Team — the first native Utahan to be named All-American.
The athlete later played six years with the Houston Oilers and was the last quarterback to lead the team to the AFC finals.
“Giff is a master politician,” said Dick Harmon, Deseret Morning News sports writer who has been covering Cougar sports for more than two decades. “He always says the right things to the right people. He has had this ability since playing at Provo High School, where he received honors as Outstanding Athlete in Utah his senior year and was selected all-state in football, all-state and state most valuable player in basketball, and all-region in golf. Teammates have always loved being around him and playing with and for him.”
Following his NFL career, Nielsen became the sports director of KHOU-TV in Houston, Texas. “He is chairman of about everything there,” Harmon added. “Just one example is his involvement with United Way. Giff hosts one of the most prestigious invitational golf tournaments in the Houston area on behalf of that organization. He has also become an icon in southern Texas at one of the largest TV markets in the country.”
When Nielsen’s jersey is retired, he will join an elite group of athletes whose jerseys hang from the press box at Edwards Stadium. Both he and Detmer wore jersey 14. Only three other jerseys have ever been retired: Eldon “the Phantom” Fortie’s number 40, Marion Probert’s number 81, and Steve Young’s number 8.
Writer: Charlene Winters