Former Miami Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti, one of the leaders of the team’s two Super Bowl champions who was later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has died at 78.
Buoniconti died Tuesday night, according to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis – a group created by the legend and inspired after his son Marc became paralyzed during a college football game in 1985.
"My dad has been my hero and represents what I have always aspired to be; a leader, a mentor and a champion," Marc Buoniconti said in a statement released Wednesday.
A native of Massachusetts, the undersized Buoniconti played college football at Notre Dame before being drafted by the AFL’s Boston Patriots and was later traded to the Dolphins where he spent seven seasons as a leader of the "No Name Defense", finishing his career as a two time All-Pro and Pro Bowler.
Following retirement, Buoniconti worked as an attorney, as president of U.S. Tobacco and as an agent to such athletes as Bucky Dent and Andre Dawson.
Buoniconti and Marc worked to raise more than a half-billion dollars in the search for a cure for paralysis. The younger Buoniconti was paralyzed from the shoulders down making a tackle for The Citadel.
"Nick was the prototypical father and leader of what has now become an international effort to find a cure for paralysis and a renaissance in neuroscience. Marc, the Miami Project Team and I are committed to carry Nick’s banner and legacy forward to the goal line," said Miami Project chairman Dr. Barth Green.
Marc said his father was his biggest hero.
"He could have been sitting on the beach sipping champagne for the rest of his life," the younger Buoniconti said in 2017. "But what did he do? He went around and gave the rest of his life to help his son."
Buoniconti had recently announced he was battling neurological issues and would be donating his brain to help in researching CTE in former athletes.
Fellow Dolphins Honor Roll member Nat Moore said he was happy to call Buoniconti a friend.
"Got to know Nick very well, as the leader of the team defense and sort of led the organization, he was the guy whenever something needed to happen with Coach [Don] Shula he was the guy to go in the back and talk with Coach Shula and work things out, that was better for the team," Moore said.