MIAMI - Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti, one of the greatest players in Miami Dolphins history, died Tuesday of pneumonia at the age of 78.
While known for his seven seasons with the Dolphins during the team's glory years, including the 1972 "Perfect Season," Buoniconti was an inspiring man off the field.
"I am sad to hear of Nick's passing." said Dolphins Hall of Fame coach Don Shula. "Nick was special to me in every way. He was someone I greatly admired. His love for his wife, Lynn, his children, grandchildren, friends, teammates, family and the community was evident."
“He was more than just a football player and was larger than life for a lot of us," former Dolphins receiver and teammate Nat Moore said. "We're going to miss him."
Buoniconti had lost consciousness a few days before he died in Bridgehampton, New York.
During his playing days, Buoniconti earned a law degree, and after retiring from football in 1976 he became a lawyer and sports agent. He was also the host of HBO's weekly "Inside the NFL" show for 23 seasons.
But his time with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis is what Buoniconti was most proud of. He co-founded the organization shortly after his son Marc was paralysed from an injury while playing college football.
The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis has raised more than $500 million for support of the Miami Project.
Marc announced the passing of his father on the Miami Project's website Wednesday.
"My dad has been my hero and represents what I have always aspired to be; a leader, a mentor and a champion," he said. "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.”
Buoniconti's own health had deteriorated over recent years, and in 2017 he announced he would donate his brain for CTE research after his death.
"This is not easy, it's difficult. I'm not half the man I used to be," Buoniconti said at the time. "I don't do this for myself. I do it for the thousands of others who will follow me."
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Buoniconti went on to became an All-American at Notre Dame before joining the Boston Patriots in the AFL after going undrafted by the NFL. He was later named to the AFL all-time team.
The Dolphins traded for Buoniconti in 1969 and he quickly became a force as the leader of the team's vaunted "No Name Defense," and was named Dolphins MVP three times before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
"He was a guy that whenever something needed to happen with coach (Don) Shula, he was the guy that went back in the back and talked with coach Shula and worked things out that was better for the team," Moore said.
"Because of Nick, the world’s a much better place." said Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka. "My sincerest condolences to Lynn and family. RIP brother, #85.”
Wednesday afternoon, the Dolphins lowered the team flag that stands in front of their training facility in Davie to half-staff.
“Nick Buoniconti was a true hero of the game," Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said. "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. 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.
Along with eight Pro Bowl invitations, Buoniconti was named to the Dolphins' Silver Anniversary All-Time Team and enshrined in the team's honor roll in 1991.
Buoniconti is survived by his wife, Lynn, two sons, Marc and Nick II, and a daughter, Gina.
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