ALTHOUGH EX-BYU QUARTERBACK Gifford Nielsen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last week, he says some fans are surprised to learn he was an all-America at BYU, preceding such well-known stars as Ty Detmer, John Walsh, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco.

"A lot of people do act surprised about that," says Nielsen. "I don't feel like I've been removed that long. But when you start to read the stories and they list all the quarterbacks that played at BYU, and your name is left off, you know it's been a little while."Nielsen, who finished up his college career in 1976, says not much has changed in 18 years. Coach LaVell Edwards is still standing on the sidelines with his arms folded and allowing his coordinators to do their jobs. Nielsen recalls how then-offensive coordinator Doug Scovil wanted to pass the ball nearly every down.

"We were, as he put it, lighting up the scoreboard," says Nielsen.

Meanwhile, the unflappable Edward kept watch over the proceedings. "He always allowed his coordinators to do their thing. And when Doug (Scovil) left to go to the pros, that's when I gained even more respect for LaVell," Nielsen continues. "I always had a lot of respect for LaVell, he's a great coach, but when Scovil left and LaVell continued to go with the program and make it better, that's when my respect for him really topped out."

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Considering his history, it shouldn't come as any real surprise that Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam was this year's Heisman winner. It seems everyone in his family has athletic talent.

Sultan Salaam, his father, was a running back for the University of Colorado, San Diego State and Cincinnati Bengals. Khalada Salaam, his mother, has three brothers 6-foot-5 or taller. One of them, Phillip Shelley, was a defensive back at Utah State.

OLD ACQUAINTANCES: As a freshman, Nielsen also played basketball for the Cougars, where he met another local athlete on the fast track to the top - Bountiful's Dave Checketts.

Checketts, who now presides over the New York Knicks and Rangers, went for a rebound on the first day of practice and caught Nielsen with an elbow, opening up a cut over his left eye that required 12 stitches to close.

Not to be outdone, the next day Nielsen - eye stitched and bandaged - went up for a rebound and cut Checketts' eye.

Nevertheless, Nielsen says they became close friends. They drifted apart when Checketts was making his way in the business and sports management world and Nielsen was playing pro football, but rekindled their friendship last spring during the Houston-New York NBA series. (Nielsen is a sports anchor on KHOU-TV in Houston.) "We did a lot of things last spring," says Nielsen. "I can't say enough for what Dave has done for BYU and the New York area as well as what he's done for me."

MAKING A LIST: Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke lists 10 ways to tell there is only a month left in the NFL's regular season: 1. Barry Foster is suddenly hurt. 2. Troy Aikman suddenly isn't. 3. Dennis Green says, "The areas that we still have to improve on, we still have to work on." 4. Bill Parcells is the approximate size of a mobile home. 5. Buddy Ryan's current team plays his former team, but Buddy has screwed both of them up so badly, nobody cares. 6. Each NFC Central team has 146 playoff possibilities. 7. Referees not only announce calls, they explain them. 8. Raider fans prepare for the playoffs by viewing videotape of prison riots. 9. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin a search for the worst football-playing college senior in America. 10. You decide that the person in your house responsible for taking out the garbage should be determined by a fifth tiebreaker.

FAMILIAR FACE: Former Weber State assistant coach Dick Hunsaker has made another move, this time to the CBA.

Hunsaker, who was head coach at Ball State for four seasons, building a 97-34 record, is now head coach for the Grand Rapids Mackers of the CBA. Last year he was named interim coach of the Hartford Hellcats, leading the team for the final 39 games of the season.

QUOTEFILE: Dave Widell, Denver Broncos center, on the ear filters the offensive linemen wear: "They drown out all the bad stuff like rap music and some bad country."