Elder S. Gifford Nielson shares lifelong lessons from the Cougar Fight Song

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Savannah Hopkinson
Elder S. Gifford Nielson addresses students and faculty gathered at the Marriott Center on the lessons taught in the Cougar Fight Song. (Savannah Hopkinson)

General Authority Seventy Elder S. Gifford Nielsen addressed students about how the Cougar Fight Song teaches lessons that can carry through their BYU experience and the rest of their lives.

He began by sharing a story from a BYU teacher who hosted an apostle visiting for a stake conference. In the story, the mother stressed about keeping the house perfectly clean for the guest, but had trouble keeping young boys from undoing her hard work.

She pinned a note to the towels in the guest bathroom reading, “Touch these — you die!” The note worked, but upon the departure of the guest she realized the note had never been removed and the guest had respected her wishes by using only the hand towel available.

Elder Nielson talked about how this incident could have made the mother feel like a failure, but instead she focused on the bright, humorous side of the experience.

“How do you handle life’s challenges and not let them bring you down?” he asked.

Elder Nielson graduated from BYU in 1977, where he was named one of the top-five scholar athletes by the NCAA. He was an All-American quarterback who went on to have a six-year NFL career with the Houston Oilers. Elder Nielson then became a sports director and anchor for KHOU-TV for 25 years.

Elder Nielson talked about his joy in being a student and athlete while here at BYU and his memories of running onto the field while the Cougar Fight Song played. He asked the crowd to ponder the meaning of the lyrics and began to share his thought on their purpose.

Coach Lavell Edwards represents the first verse of the fight song to Elder Nielson.

“He taught us to Rise all loyal Cougars and hurl your challenge to the foe’,” Nielson said. “Regardless of our opponent he trained us to fight — day or night; rain or snow.'”

By bringing people together on the field and challenging the common strategy of college football in the early 1970’s, Edwards’ goal for the BYU program to become recognized and respected was realized, Elder Nielson said.

“(Edwards) placed responsibility on the players to become better than they thought they could be,” Elder Nielson said. “He asked us to ‘get set to springand we started to accomplish remarkable things.”

Elder Nielson spoke about the football team having major success and receiving national attention for the 1976 and 1977 seasons. As a senior in the 1977 senior, Elder Nielson felt his team relied on him. This put pressure on him to remain in the fourth game of the season, even after he sustained a hard hit and heard a pop in his left knee. Unfortunately, while trying to push through the game, Elder Nielson was hit again a few plays later and had to leave the game.

When it was time to have his knee examined, Elder Nielson was surrounded by Edwards, athletic director Glen Tuckett, trainer Marv Robertson and Dr. Robert Metcalf. It was determined he would need immediate surgery. Shocked, he asked for a priesthood blessing from the men in front of him.

“Without hesitation, these four remarkable ‘loyal, strong and true’ leaders, were ready and worthy to act in the name of the Savior,” Elder Nielson said.

Elder Nielson said to this day he has not had another problem with his knee, even through six years of NFL play for the Oilers. He expressed his gratitude for these men and reviewed a list of priorities he had written previously. These priorities reminded him to put the Savior and eternal family first, church and building the kingdom second, education from BYU third, and his football team and athletic goals fourth.

“As I looked at life from an eternal perspective, I realized that in reality, very little had changed,” he said.

Elder Nielson then said Edwards’ wife, Patti, provided an example of a unified marriage through time, effort and constant communication.

Elder Nielson shared how Edwards and his wife would spend Friday mornings before games in the temple, and how after open heart surgery Edwards was most worried about his tithing settlement.

“They walked the walk of honor and commitment, understanding that, Cougars it’s up to you,’” Elder Nielson said.

He went on to discuss people’s focus when life gets hard and how the victory stories of others can inspire them. He shared how Captain Moroni was a mighty man looked up to by many. Captain Moroni captures the vision of courage in letting “our cheers ring out,” according to Elder Nielson. He then asked the audience to ponder who looks to them as inspiration.

“I guarantee that somebody somewhere watches you and wants to be like you. You have more influence than you may realize,” he said.

His last example was of two BYU Football players who made the decision to bear their testimony to someone on the opposing team each week. These two men were ready and willing to share the restoration of the gospel with everyone. Elder Nielson said happiness is found when blessing others with the gospel.

Elder Nielson represented the line Vanquish the foe!” with a story about President M. Russell Ballard. President Ballard invited missionaries to make a list of things they wanted to stop doing, and things they wanted to improve. His command after the missionaries made these lists was simply to, “Fix it!” President Ballard said there is no better way to defeat the enemies of our lives.

Elder Nielson said the Cougar Fight Song teaches many lessons for students to take throughout their lives. They can rise to greater heights, work through challenges, “rain or snow,” despite the foes in their way. They can see that the “trail of fame and glory” is the path to God, which is the ultimate “victory story.” They can see “Alma Mater’s sons and daughters” watching and praising their examples and cheering them on.

“I invite each of us to be a powerful influence for good,” Elder Nielson said. “May we be the kind of living epistles our new prophet describes. As we do so, ‘we’ll raise our colors high in the blue and cheer not only our Cougars of BYU’, but also everyone we meet.”

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