Nick Buoniconti, 1940 - 2019

Nick Buoniconti, 1940 - 2019

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Pro Football Hall of Fame Linebacker Nick Buoniconti has passed at the age of 78.

Nick Buoniconti played guard on offense and linebacker on defense during his collegiate career at Notre Dame. An undersized player, he defied all the numbers by which pro scouts judge potential. He was not drafted by a National Football League team and lasted until the 13th round of the 1962 American Football League Draft, before being tapped by the Boston Patriots. Even his coach at Notre Dame advised AFL and NFL scouts that he was too small to play in the pros. However, as several coaches later noted, Buoniconti “played bigger than his size.”

Nick Buoniconti was a true hero of the game. His inspiring Hall of Fame journey that started as a 13th round draft choice to leading the Dolphins ‘No Name’ defense is one filled with grit, determination, courage and compassion,” Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker said. “Nick’s contributions off the field were even greater than what he did on it. He lived a life of honor and nobility and his legacy will live forever through his Bronzed Bust in Canton, Ohio.”

Baker added, “The entire Hall of Fame family mourns Nick’s passing and we will keep his wife Lynn and his entire family in our thoughts and prayers.”

The 5-11, 220-pound middle linebacker played 14 seasons (1962-1974, 1976) with the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. Determined to succeed, the Springfield, Mass. native made an immediate impact at linebacker with the Patriots helping the team capture the 1963 AFL Eastern Division title. During his seven seasons with the Pats, the hard-hitting, freelancing linebacker recorded 24 interceptions which still ranks as seventh in team history. He had a career-high five interceptions in 1964, and in one game in 1968 against the Buffalo Bills he picked off three passes. Although he never returned an interception for a touchdown, he twice scored on fumble recoveries.

Buoniconti played in five AFL All-Star games as a member of the Patriots and a sixth after being traded to the Dolphins in 1969.  He was named the Dolphins’ Most Valuable Player in his first season in Miami, an honor he again received in 1970 and 1973. His outstanding play in 1972 and 1973 earned him two more Pro Bowl berths, and in 1973, he set a then-team record of 162 tackles, 91 of which were unassisted. The driving force of the Dolphins’ famed “No Name Defense,” Nick inspired his teammates with his outstanding play and fiery leadership.

During his years with the Dolphins the team advanced to three straight Super Bowl appearances, winning two, with one coming after their incredible undefeated season in 1972.

“Every play is like life or death,” he once said, when asked why he was so relentless. “I can’t think of anything except the play that is taking place at the moment.” Buoniconti, who recorded 32 career interceptions, was named to the All-Time AFL team in 1970, and was named a first team All-AFL/AFC choice eight times.

Following his playing career, Buoniconti was a member of HBO’s “Inside the NFL” for 23 years. Buoniconti co-hosted the show alongside fellow Hall of Famer LEN DAWSON.

Buoniconti’s son, Marc, was playing linebacker for The Citadel in 1985 when he suffered an injury making a tackle that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Nick Buoniconti co-founded the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and has raised more than $450 million for research into the treatment of spinal cord and brain injuries. 

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