Miami Dolphins' Hall of Fame Linebacker Nick Buoniconti Dead at 78: 'The Heartbeat of Our Team'
Nick Buoniconti, the Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer who helped lead the NFL team to back-to-back Super Bowl championships, has died. He was 78.
The tragic news was confirmed by a number of Nick’s loved ones, including his family spokesman Bruce Bobbins, who told ESPN that the former linebacker died on Tuesday in Bridgehampton, New York.
Nick’s cause of death was not immediately known but comes a little over two years after he revealed that he was suffering from memory loss, among other ailments, and could no longer use his left hand, according to ESPN.
His son Marc Buoniconti — who was paralyzed at the age of 19 from football, leading Nick to develop the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which he helped raise millions of dollars for — also issued a statement to ESPN and praised his father for his talents on and off the field.
“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, 52, told the outlet.
“My dad has been my hero and represents what I have always aspired to be: a leader, a mentor and a champion,” he added.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Nick was always considered an undersized player at 5’11” and 220 pounds, but didn’t let that stop him from playing offensive guard and defensive linebacker at Notre Dame, according to his bio on the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Though he wasn’t immediately drafted by the NFL, the Boston Patriots (who changed their name to the New England Patriots in 1971 after relocating to Foxborough, MA) eventually selected Nick to be on their team in the 13th round of the 1962 American Football League (AFL) draft.
From 1962 to 1968, Nick played as a middle linebacker for the Patriots and racked up a number of accomplishments, including 24 career interceptions — three of those occurred during a game in 1968 — which remains ranked as seventh in team history.
During his time on the Patriots, he was also named to the AFL All-Star Game five times and helped the team win the 1963 AFL Eastern Division title, according to his bio.
In 1969, he was traded to the Miami Dolphins but remained a driving force on their team’s defense, as well, earning team MVP in his debut season and two more times in 1970 and 1973.
Most notably, he helped lead the team to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1973 — a team that finished with an unprecedented and undefeated 17-0 record on the season — and 1974.
In 2001, the NFL player, who competed for a total of 14 seasons, was inducted to the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
Following his days on the field, Nick spent his time raising his children, working as a broadcaster, businessman, and attorney, and dedicating his efforts to charitable causes, including the paralysis fund he co-founded in 1985, ESPN reports.
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The former linebacker also revealed in November 2017 that he would donate his brain for CTE research, according to the outlet.
“This is not easy, it’s difficult. I’m not half the man I used to be,” he said at the time. “My life, as I know it, has been taken away from me … I don’t do this for myself. I do it for the thousands of others who will follow me.”
In the wake of his death, many have paid tribute to the football all-star, including the teams he once played for and many of his former coaches and teammates.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Nick Buoniconti,” wrote the Miami Dolphins, while the New England Patriots added, “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Nick Buoniconti.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Irish legend and Super Bowl champion Nick Buoniconti and his loved ones,” tweeted Notre Dame Football.
“RIP Nick Buoniconti… @MiamiDolphins legend and a great man,” wrote Miami Dolphins’ CEO Tom Garfinkel.
“Rest In Peace #NickBuoniconti. You were very special to me both on and off the field,” Don Shula, Buoniconti’s coach with the Dolphins, tweeted.
In a statement on the Dolphins’ website, Shula added, “Nick was special to me in every way. He was someone I greatly admired … His groundbreaking work with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has made a huge difference in the lives of so many people. I am thankful to have had Nick in my life. I will miss him.”
Nick’s former teammate and safety Dick Anderson called the news of his friend’s passing a “difficult day.”
“Nick was the leader of our defense and another coach on the field,” he said on the website. “As great a player as he was on the field, and he was a Hall of Famer, he was even more impactful off the field with all the work he did with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis after the injury to his, Marc.”
Nat Moore, a former NFL wide receiver, called Nick “one of our greats” and said he would “never be matched.”
“It’s a real sad day for the Dolphins and our alumni. We lost one of our greats with the passing of Nick Buoniconti,” Moore wrote in a statement on the website. “He was a great football player, a true Hall of Famer, but he was much more than that.”
“He was a lawyer and a successful business leader. Most of all he was a family man. The work he did with the Miami Project following the tragic accident with Marc will never be matched … He will be missed and always in our hearts,” he continued.
Former fullback Larry Little added, “I’m deeply saddened by the news of Nick’s passing. He was the consummate team captain, the heartbeat of our team. I’ll miss Nick, his wisdom and class.”
“Because of Nick, the world’s a much better place,” he added. “RIP brother, #85.”