Nick Buoniconti Miami Dolphins & New England Patriots

"There is no better schoolyard than football. It taught you how to win, how to lose, what adversity was, how to play hurt. It taught you that with winning comes rewards.”

Nick Buoniconti played guard on offense and linebacker on defense at Notre Dame. An undersized player, he defied all the numbers by which pro scouts judge potential. He wasn’t even drafted by a National Football League team, and lasted until the thirteenth 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.”

The 5-11, 220-pound middle linebacker went on to play 14 seasons (1962-1974, 1976) with the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. Determined to succeed, the Springfield, Massachusetts 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 grabbed three errant 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 Patriot and a sixth after being traded to the Dolphins in 1969. That season he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player, an honor he would again be awarded 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.