Nick Buoniconti, Hall of Fame linebacker, dies at 78

Nick Buoniconti, Hall of Fame linebacker, dies at 78

Nick Buoniconti, who helped the Dolphins win Super Bowls 7 and 8 in the early 1970s, has died, the team confirmed Wednesday. He was 78.

The Hall of Fame linebacker had been battling dementia and showing signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which was highlighted in HBO’s documentary “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti.”

In the documentary, Buoniconti was healthy enough to conduct the interview from his home but described how he had a hard time keeping his thoughts straight.

“Everything is jumbled for me. It’s just not possible for me to do it without stumbling,” Buoniconti said in the documentary.

Buoniconti was examined by a Boston University physician in 2017, who said Buoniconti had all the signs of CTE. However, a conclusive diagnosis was impossible — at this point the only way to determine if someone has CTE is to examine the brain after a person has passed.

With that, Buoniconti pledged in 2017 to donate his brain for research.

During his playing career, Buoniconti was known as a force on the field. He spent the first seven years of his 14-year career with the Boston Patriots before he was traded to the Dolphins in 1969.

Buoniconti said he was devastated when his hometown Patriots traded him and considered retiring but decided to stay with Miami. His decision led him to be part of the famous “No Name Defense” and a legendary 1972 Dolphins team that went 17-0 en route to winning Super Bowl 7 and then was part of the 1973 team that saw the Dolphins win Super Bowl 8.

Buoniconti retired in 1976 with two Pro Bowl and six AFL All-Star selections under his belt. In 2001 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

In addition to becoming a TV presence on HBO’s trailblazing “Inside the NFL” in the 1980s, he also eventually started the Buoniconti Fund after his son Marc became paralyzed during a college football game in 1985. This organization helped launch the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which has become a huge contributor to neurological research.

In the HBO documentary, Marc said: “We’re both, in a way, paralyzed. I’m paralyzed because I can’t do the basic things in life. It’s not pleasant to think about where my life is going to take me.”

When asked in 2017 if he would have kept playing if he knew what years of hits and concussions would do to his brain, Nick Buoniconti didn’t sugarcoat his answer.

“I didn’t have any idea the price would be this debilitating,” he said, via the Palm Beach Post. “Had I known, would I have played? I had no alternative; there was no other way for me to get a college education. Football kept rewarding me — I can’t deny that. But I’m paying the price.

“Everybody pays the piper.”