Nick Buoniconti, an undersized linebacker who helped lead the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in NFL history, died Tuesday. He was 78.
“Today, with a heavy heart and profound sorrow, my family and the entire Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and Buoniconti Fund community mourn the loss of a man who was truly larger than life, my father, NFL Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti,” Marc Buoniconti said on the Miami Project website.
“My dad has been my hero and represents what I have always aspired to be; a leader, a mentor and a champion. He selflessly gave all to football, to his family and to those who are less fortunate. He made a promise to me that turned into a revolution in paralysis research. We can best honor his dedication and endless commitment by continuing with our work until that promise is fulfilled and a cure is found.”
The cause of death wasn’t announced. Buoniconti had previously been diagnosed with dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE. The brain disease is caused by repeated head injuries and has been increasingly diagnosed in recent years among former football players.
Buoniconti said late in his life that he would donate his brain to research.
Originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, Buoniconti was considered small at linebacker at 5 feet, 11 inches. He was drafted out of Notre Dame in 1962 by the then-Boston Patriots in the 13th round of the American Football League draft. He spent seven seasons with the Patriots before joining the Dolphins in 1969, the year before the AFL merged with the NFL.
The leader of Miami’s “No Name Defense,” Buoniconti helped the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowl appearances, including two wins and an undefeated season in 1972, the only such season in NFL history. He went on to play 14 seasons as a pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
Buoniconti made a tremendous impact off the field as well. He also was an attorney, sports agent, president of US Tobacco and a co-host of HBO’s “Inside the NFL.” The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis was founded in 1985 after Marc Buoniconti was paralyzed from the shoulders down after sustaining a hit during a college football game.
Buoniconti is survived by his wife, Lynn, two sons, Marc and Nick II, and a daughter, Gina.