Nick Buoniconti Enshrinement speech

Pro Football Hall of Fame - Canton, Ohio
August 4, 2001


Marc Buoniconti (presenter):
Hello Canton. Is this great or what? Dad – a few years ago, you said 'Marc, if I ever get elected to the Hall of Fame, I want you to introduce me.' Well, here we are. And here I am, one lucky person. A kid who grew up with a hero as a dad. And a son who has been asked to introduce his father on the day of his highest honor. I'm humbled by the responsibility of saying so much for so many in so little time. These few words could never capture the feelings of all of the people you've touched and inspired. Your mother Pasqualina Buonconti. Your uncle Bob – your brothers Uncle Bob and Uncle Pete. My brother Nick and sister Gina. Your many close friends - both old and new. Your fellow teammates, the members of that "No-Name Defense", and the coaches that you've had - especially coach Don Shula.

Dad, you've had labels and clichés attached to you throughout your life. Too small. Not NFL material. Overachiever. A quote intelligent player. A no-name. But make no mistake about it, you're here today because of what you did on the field. It may have taken the sportswriters 20 years to come around but now the world knows what your teammates and opponents knew all along. That you were just one great football player.

You once told me 'I never really thought of myself as undersized.' Weren't you listening to what people were saying? Maybe you were just too focused to pay attention to those things. During 14 seasons with the Patriots and Dolphins, you played 183 games, had 32 interceptions, were chosen All-AFL and All-AFC eight times, voted team Most Valuable Player three times, and named to the all-time AFL team. As captain of the "No-Name Defense", you led the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowls and back-to-back championships. In 1972, the stingy defense you anchored was unrelenting during the 17-0 run known as the "Perfect Season." That team's unmatched accomplishment grows greater with each passing season.

Your Hall of Fame coach Don Shula had this to say about you, 'without a doubt the key to our great defense in back-to-back Super Bowl seasons was the leadership of our defensive captain, Nick Buoniconti. His tenacity and attention to detail made it happen. He made sure that our "No-Name Defense" was a no-mistake defense.'

As we know, voters to the Hall of Fame do not consider off-the-field accomplishments. But if they had, they would have found that you have world-class achievements in many areas other than football. In your first few years with the Patriots, you attended Suffolk Law School at night while practicing football in the day. Before you were a Miami Dolphin, you were already a practicing attorney in the off-season.

After football, you began hosting HBO's "Inside the NFL", the longest running program on cable television. In business, you rose to the highest levels of corporate America. You became president of a Fortune 500 company, vice-chairman of a pharmaceutical company and served on boards of several publicly traded companies.

But just as remarkable as your achievements on the field and in the boardroom is your unselfish dedication to making a difference in the lives of others. And Dad, this is probably where you excel above all else.

This great game of football has given our family its brightest moments and its darkest days. Dad, 85 was your lucky number. But 1985 brought some tough times for the Buoniconti family. Early that year, you lost your own dad to cancer, and then in October, I had my paralyzing injury playing linebacker for The Citadel. Looking into your eyes, I saw a mask of pain and fear transform into that familiar look of determination. I knew you were getting ready for our biggest challenge. So, when they starting using labels for me and telling you all the medical clichés that I'd never walk again, that I'd need a machine to breath for me, that paralysis can't be cured, once again you didn't listen. You made a bedside promise to do everything and anything to help me walk again. Your promise that October day 16 years ago became the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the world's largest, most comprehensive spinal cord research center. It is a symbol of hope for hundreds of thousands of Americans who are waiting for a cure.

Dad, you never believed the labels and limitations others described to you. Instead you faced each challenge head on and made believers out of them. So in closing, I've got a label for you that I've never heard mentioned. Dad, as I look at all the things they say you couldn't do, it seems to me that you're just not a very good listener.

Who would have thought that the son of a Italian baker from the south end of Springfield, Massachusetts would go on to run a Fortune 500 company? Or that a guy with a degree in economics would be helping to make medical history. Or that a 13th-round pick of the fledgling AFL would today be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Dad, you've always been by my side and have been more of a father to me than I could have ever imagined. The best father one could hope for. Whatever it is you got inside you, we see it, we feel it, and it gets each of us little bit more reason to believe.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my hero, my friend, my dad…..Nick Buoniconti.

Nick Buoniconti:
Marc has lifted the spirits of thousands of people in wheelchairs who thought their lives were over because of spinal cord injury. And believe me, we are going to find a cure for spinal cord injury. And the single reason that we are going to do it is because of my son, Marc.

Well, you know, I'm 60 years old. I last played 25 years ago. But, like Marc says from a kid that grew up in a great section of Springfield, Mass - the south end. And who was a son of a Italian baker, I am truly humbled and honored to be up here. You know my childhood was magic. I mean it was absolutely fantastic. And to that end I'm going to dedicate my induction to my biggest fan - a guy who never missed a practice of mine. Who drove two or three times a year from Springfield, Mass to South Bend, Indiana to see, with my Mom, to see his son play for Notre Dame. My father died in 1985 and Dad, I'm dedicating my induction to you, and I know you're standing right here.

To my mom. Mom, who's going to be 85 this September and cooks the best fried food you'll ever have in your life. Mom, what can I say but I love you. To my brothers Bob and Pete who are here. Thanks for your understanding and for sharing our lives together. To my two other children - Gina who shows her beauty through her heart and to my son Nick who was a terrific linebacker in his own right. I appreciate everything you've done and for giving us, especially for giving us, those four beautiful grandchildren. They're wonderful. To my stepson Justin who has the opportunity to be something great. And to my wife Lynn, who has re-energized me and who makes the sun shine ever day of my life. Thank you Lynnie.

Well, I went to Cathedral High School in Springfield. Thirteen years old and there was coach by the name of Billy Wise who looked at me at 5'8", 160 pounds and gave me a chance to play. I started middle linebacker for Cathedral High and I was grateful for him for everything that he taught me. But at Cathedral High, there were some guys who paved the way to Notre Dame for me. People like Joe Scibelli who played 13 years with the Los Angeles Rams, great player who's not with us. Angelo Bertelli, the great Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame and Milt Pepil.

And from Notre Dame, I went on. I mean, from Cathedral High I went on to Notre Dame. Now, what can I say about my Notre Dame years? Paul Hornung and I had something in common. We both tied the all-time losing record for a season at Notre Dame. We both went 2-8. Now the difference is Hornung got the Heisman Trophy and I got hate mail.

But, I thank Notre Dame for giving me that wonderful education and for educating me, not only academically but for educating me socially. And for giving me one of my best friends ever, Richie Catenacci, who is here today. But, when the 1962 draft came, even though I was an All-America, my college coach decided I couldn't play professional football. Because the way he described it 'if you tell Nick to run through a brick wall, he'll run through the wall but he'll leave a small hole.' Well coach, I have to tell you that I think today that hole got a little bit bigger.

And from Notre Dame to the Boston Patriots, and I have to thank Mike Holovak for giving me that opportunity to start in my second game. Actually, I have to thank Lenny Dawson, because in the first game, Dallas Texans beat the Patriots, 42-28 and they shook up our defense and they stuck me in at middle linebacker and we happened to win the next game and I stayed there forever.

But, I also want to thank my Patriot teammates who were so great. We were a team that went on the field and we played. And the AFL was a just great time in our lives. No one had any money. Matter of fact, one time we took off from Boston, stopped off in Buffalo, and picked up the Buffalo Bills on the same plane because we were trying to save money. But, my Patriot teammates were wonderful – Babe Parilli, Larry Eisenhauer, Bob Dee, Jimmy Hunt, Houston Antwine, Ronnie Hall – great players. And, of course, the ambassador of them all - Gino Cappelletti. Gino's here today. And Gino, some day I think, will be standing right up here. Because no one can score 1,000 points in a league and be overlooked. Gino, you're going to be up here. And to Terri Buoniconti for being such a great mother and for sharing in so many important moments in my life.

But, Patriots didn't like me enough. They decided they were going to ship me off to Miami. Now, who the hell wants to play in Miami? It's 100 degrees; 100 percent humidity and you're not supposed to play football; you're supposed to go to the beach. But, I got lucky. I had an owner by the name of Joe Robbie who gave me a contract that I needed. And then, we won three ball games. But, things started to change a little bit in 1970. In 1970, they brought down a coach from Baltimore. And this coach was a little abstinent. He wouldn't let us do what we wanted to do. He told us it was his way or the highway. And that guy is here today - the winningest coach - and you've already met him. Mr. Don Shula. Coach.

But the Dolphin years, from 1970 to '74, I think they speak for themselves. For when you talk about the greatest teams in history, and there are so many represented here by so many great Hall of Famers, the Dolphin team is right at the top. Not only did we accomplish what no other team in history accomplished – go undefeated in '72. But when you look at the record in '72, '73, and '74, this football team only lost six games. Six games. And in the process, they sent some an incredible people here to Canton. The toughest, most rugged fullback I've ever seen –Larry Csonka. The most graceful receiver – and Lynnie Swann, when I look at you, I look at Paul Warfield. And the most unselfish quarterback I have ever been around - Mr. Bob Griese. And the tandem of Little and Langer, that really set the fear in every defensive player's heart that they played against. And now, I know for sure there's going to be one more offensive guy who will be up here because he deserves it and that's Bob Kuechenberg. And Bob and we're going to wait the day that you're up here.

But, you know something coach, I hate to say this but we did have a defense. Where are you? We did have a defense, honestly. We had a defense that would out hit you, outplay you and a defense that would outthink you. We had a defense that had a Bill Stanfill, who had 18½ sacks one year and is tenth ranked in the history in the NFL. We had a guy named Manny Fernandez who in Super Bowl VII made 17 unassisted tackles and that record still stands. And we had a safety duo by the name of Jake Scott and Dick Anderson, who's here today. That is the best defensive duo I have ever seen in my life. And we had a coach who may some day be in the Hall of Fame. A defensive coach that most say is a genius - Bill Arnsparger.

So, to my "No-Name Defense" comrades. Number 25 Tim Foley, #26 Lloyd Mumphord, #57 Mike Kolen, #59 Doug Swift, #53 the late great Bob Matheson, #83 Vern Den Herder, #75 Manny Fernandez, #72 Bob Heinz, #84 Bill Stanfill, #13 Jake Scott, and #40 Dick Anderson, and #45 Curtis Johnson. To you guys, I say, that when you go in the Hall of Fame, and when you look at my bust, you're not looking at the bust of Nick Buoniconti, you are looking at the bust of the "No-Name Defense." You are looking at the bust of guys who are some of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game. And I'll tell you what; I am just so honored to have been part of that group.

To the fans in Miami. Believe me when you talk about the 12th man on the field, it's the fans. Because, as the players will tell you, as you stand in that tunnel five minutes before that ball game, your palms are sweating, your stomach is churning, your head is banging, and all of sudden you get that electricity coming from those fans, it totally energizes you. And believe me, the Miami fans were just that and to them - I am just so grateful.

And to my family at HBO – 23 years doing this show on "Inside the NFL" – I hope none of you guys take our tips and bet on games. But to Ross Greenberg, Rick Bernstein, Dave Harmon, and my co-host Cris Collinsworth, Danny Marino – who will definitely be standing up here one day, Jerry Glanville, and last but not least – of course, the guy from right down the road in Alliance, Ohio – "Mr. Cool" himself, Lenny Dawson who's here. And, I want to thank Wayne Huizenga. Because Wayne has carried on the great tradition of the Miami Dolphins and that's so important.

Well, it looks like the final chapter in my professional life has been written. It was a challenge. I took the challenge head on. It was a mountain and I climbed the mountain. But as I close that book on my professional career as my son Marc says, the biggest challenge and the highest mountain is yet to be climbed. You know, I wear this Super Bowl ring which is the only ring ever produced that says the Miami Dolpins were undefeated and were perfect. I would trade this ring in and all my individual accomplishments if one thing could happen in my lifetime. My son Marc dreams that he walks. And as a father, I would like nothing more than to walk by his side.

Thank you so much.