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Quarterback Gifford Nielsen, a six-year veteran with the Houston...

By JESS BLACKBURN

HOUSTON -- Quarterback Gifford Nielsen, a six-year veteran with the Houston Oilers, announced his retirement, saying he is probably walking away from a starter's job.

'I believe I was in a good position to be the starter next season because I am already familiar with the system,' Nielsen said Monday. 'I believe I can still play in this league and can still win in this league.'

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But he also admitted that newly-signed quarterback Warren Moon was bound to replace him.

'The handwriting is on the wall that Warren Moon will eventually be the starting quarterback for Houston. He is a great athlete,' Nielsen said, insisting that Moon 'was not that much of a factor' in his decision to quit football.

Nielsen, 29, said he decided to quit football over the weekend after being offered the sports director's job at a Houston television station.

Nielsen hosted a local TV show before becoming an on-air sportscaster at KHOU-TV, where he has agreed to head the sports department.

'It was a very difficult decision. I'm preparing myself for the future. I'm not nervous about the change, I'm excited about it, now that the decision process is over,' he said.

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Nielsen played behind Dan Pastorini when he first joined the Oilers, after setting passing records at Brigham Young University. Hampered by a shoulder injury in recent seasons, Nielsen alternated with Archie Manning -- since traded to Minnesota -- and Oliver Luck.

His personal career highlight, he said, was leading Houston to a 17-14 playoff victory over San Diego in 1979 when he substituted for Pastorini, who was injured.

'Walking off the field, Dan Pastorini came up and hugged me and said he loved me and said, 'Thank you for giving me another shot at the Super Bowl.' That's an experience that you play for,' he said.

The Oilers, who also played without star running back Earl Campbell in that victory, lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game that year.

Houston coach Hugh Campbell, who coached Moon in the Canadian Football League, said the loss of Nielsen's experience would be felt by the team.

'He could have been very helpful in the development of Warren Moon,' Campbell said. 'Gifford is such a strong team player and a positive leader, you hate to lose that kind of character. Gifford figured very strongly in our plans for next season.'

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