Nobel laureate Peter Higgs could have been one of the architects of physics' biggest theory - but missed out because of an early night.
He says he was at a science meeting in 1960 where physicists contemplated ideas that would lead to a "theory of everything" - the Standard Model.
But the discussion went on into the small hours, and Prof Higgs went to bed early.
He thus failed to make a key connection between his work and that of others.
Three years after the British physicist predicted the existence of the Higgs mechanism, it was shown to be central to the Standard Model, the dominant "big theory" in physics, and our best understanding of how the Universe works.
The suggestion is contained in a revealing interview with Prof Higgs on BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific.
In the interview, he also blames his work for the breakdown of his marriage.
The Higgs mechanism explains why particles have mass. It predicts the existence of a particle, the Higgs boson, which was finally detected at Cern in 2012, after a 50-year effort.
Last year, Prof Higgs and Belgian physicist François Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the idea.
But Prof Higgs told the programme that he missed its true significance at the time. The physicists Shelley Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg received a Nobel prize in 1979 for ideas that lie at the heart of the Standard Model, and Prof Higgs might have been among them.