Nick Buoniconti was projected in 1962 by a Chicago newspaper as a sure bet to be one of the first three linemen picked in the upcoming NFL draft. However, to his surprise no NFL team drafted the Notre Dame All-America. Fortunately, the Boston Patriots of the upstart American Football did. It was a decision that Boston and Nick never regretted.
Determined not be overlooked again, Buoniconti attracted the attention of his coaches almost immediately. By the first game of the season the former Notre Dame star was the Patriots' starting middle linebacker. The following year, he earned the first of his seven consecutive first-team All-AFL honors.
A hard hitter, Nick argued that his speed was his strongest asset. "When (Dick) Butkus hits you, you fall the way he wants," the good-natured Buoniconti once remarked. "When I hit you, you fall the way you want. But really, there's no difference. You still fall."
During his seven seasons in Boston, Nick led in pass interceptions with 24 and was the team's leading tackler. Injuries, however, limited his play in 1968 to eight games and prior to the start of the 1969 season the Patriots traded their defensive star to the Miami Dolphins.
Dolphins' head coach George Wilson was so sure that Nick would make the difference on the young Miami team, he named Nick captain of the defense.
Following the 1969 season, however, Wilson was fired. Suddenly Nick found himself not only surrounded by young, inexperienced players, but now he would have to play for a new head coach. And this wasn't just any coach; it was the defense-minded Don Shula. The results were immediate.
In 1970 the Dolphins improved from 3-10-1 to 10-4 and advanced to the divisional playoff game, only to lose to the Oakland Raiders 21-14. Nick was named the team's MVP for the second straight year.
The next season, the Dolphins again pressed on to the playoffs and earned the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl VI.
"Nondescript," is what Buoniconti called the Dolphins' 1971 defensive squad that surrendered just 174 points. "We have no stars, and the offense gets the publicity. So we have pride."
Unfortunately, in Super Bowl VI the powerful Dallas Cowboys seriously bruised the defense's pride, throttling Miami 24-3.
The following season the Dolphins with their "No-Name Defense," really gelled and became the first NFL franchise to go undefeated and untied in the regular and post-season. They avenged their Super Bowl VI loss with a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
Buoniconti, however, didn't rest on his laurels following the undefeated season. Some even suggest that he experienced his best season overall in 1973 when he set a then-team record of 162 tackles and was named the Dolphins' MVP for a third time.
Nick Buoniconti's hard work, determination, and self-confidence earned him first- or second-team All-AFL/AFC 10 times, eight AFL All-Star Games or Pro Bowl berths, and selection to the All-Time AFL Team. It also earned him his sport's highest honor, election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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