Nick Buoniconti, 78, Dies; All-Pro Linebacker Championed Medical Research

Nick Buoniconti, a tenacious center linebacker who gained two Super Bowls within the 1970s with the Miami Dolphins and in retirement turned his doggedness to discovering a treatment for his son’s paralysis, died on Tuesday at his dwelling in Bridgehampton, N.Y. He was 78.

The son, Marc Buoniconti, the president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which his father helped discovered, introduced the dying. His stated his father had been in hospice care.

In 2015 medical doctors advised Nick Buoniconti that he confirmed signs of dementia. Two years later he agreed to donate his mind to researchers at Boston University. They are to find out if his repeated head accidents as a participant precipitated power traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative mind illness.

As of 2017, the university’s C.T.E. Center had found the disease in 110 of the 111 former N.F.L. gamers’ brains it had examined.

“I’m constructive that soccer precipitated this,” Buoniconti stated in “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti” (2019), an HBO documentary. In an interview for the movie, he confirmed his frustration with the halting speech that his dementia had precipitated.

“I’m not mad on the sport, I’m mad on the house owners,” he stated. “I feel that we paved the best way for the N.F.L. being what it’s immediately. In different phrases, we, uh, we paved the best way for them and so they’re, they’re reaping all the advantages.”

He added, “Sorry, I’m not, uh, I’m not, uh, coherent.”

For a few years Buoniconti was an clever, articulate and difficult participant for the Boston Patriots (now the New England Patriots) and the Dolphins, successful All-Pro honors 5 instances in a 14-year professional soccer profession. A former All-American on the University of Notre Dame, he anchored the Dolphins’ vaunted “No-Name Defense” beneath Coach Don Shula.

Afterward he grew to become a lawyer, a participant agent, a TV sports activities persona, a company govt and the lead voice of the Miami Project.

Marc Buoniconti severely injured his spinal twine in a school soccer sport in 1985. For greater than 30 years afterward, Buoniconti helped elevate almost $500 million for spinal twine and mind analysis carried out by the group. He additionally performed a crucial function in directing the analysis and was a charismatic motivator of scientists and researchers.

Dr. Barth Green, a neurosurgeon and longtime chairman of the Miami Project, stated in a cellphone interview: “People are strolling now due to mobile transplants and the newest neuroengineering and bioengineering that has been utilized to people with incapacity. Nick was a stimulating power in that space, from bench to bedside. And that is somebody who most likely by no means took a science course.”

Nicholas Anthony Buoniconti Jr. was born on Dec. 15, 1940, in Springfield, Mass., to Nicholas Sr. and Pasqualina (Mercolino) Buoniconti. They ran an Italian bakery, Mercolino’s, in Springfield’s South End. If not for his athletic expertise, Buoniconti stated, he may need spent the remainder of his life working on the bakery, making contemporary bread each morning as his father and grandfather had.

“He had three issues going for him,” his brother Peter stated within the HBO documentary. “He was the most effective athlete within the South End, he was one of many smartest children within the South End, and he was the hardest child within the South End. So he was only a particular child.”

Nick excelled as an undersized linebacker at Notre Dame. But his coach, Joe Kuharich, didn’t suggest him to National Football League scouts; Kuharich felt that at 5-foot-11 and 210 kilos, Buoniconti was too small for the N.F.L. Kuharich advised him to set his sights on the American Football League, which had began in 1960 as an audacious problem to the older N.F.L.

Buoniconti did, and was drafted by the Patriots within the 13th spherical of the 1962 A.F.L. draft. The N.F.L. didn’t draft him in any respect.

As a Patriot, he was an All-Pro 4 instances and led the crew in tackles and interceptions in his seven seasons with Boston. He distinguished himself off the sphere by learning on the Suffolk University School of Law in Boston to arrange for his post-playing profession, graduating in 1968.

“Once I received my legislation diploma, I used to be decided to not let soccer rule me,” he stated within the HBO documentary.

He was traded to the Dolphins in 1969 and contemplated retiring. But he agreed to a long-term cope with the crew, becoming a member of a younger roster. Miami went 3-10-1 in his first season, however the crew’s fortunes modified the following yr, when Shula guided it to a 10-Four file.

It was the beginning of a memorable run of success for the Dolphins. After the A.F.L.-N.F.L. merger, they have been American Football Conference champions in 1971, although they misplaced to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. And in 1972 they went undefeated, capping what grew to become a 17-Zero season with a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII in January 1973. No crew since then has gone undefeated for a complete season (although the Patriots got here shut in 2008, when their 18-Zero run ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Giants.)

Buoniconti grew to become the one member of Miami’s No-Name Defense to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“We have been embarrassed by how we performed in opposition to the Cowboys,” Buoniconti told The New York Times in 2012. “The indisputable fact that we have been undefeated was unintentional. It occurred. We additionally had expertise and luck and nice teaching. It was extra chemistry than capacity.”

The Dolphins gained the following Super Bowl as properly, beating the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7.

Buoniconti completed taking part in after the 1976 season, happy to have retired together with his well being.

“My final sport, I received on my fingers and knees and kissed the bottom and thanked God that I’d by no means gotten significantly harm,” he stated in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2017. He estimated that he had absorbed 520,00Zero hits to his head.

He used his legislation diploma for a number of years in personal follow, the place his work included representing athletes, amongst them the baseball participant Andre Dawson, then of the Montreal Expos, in contract negotiations. In 1979, he began a 23-year run as a bunch of the HBO Sports sequence “Inside the NFL,” teaming up with Len Dawson, the previous quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs.

And in 1983, he joined United States Tobacco as a senior vice chairman, incomes 10 instances the wage he had obtained in his greatest years within the N.F.L.

Buoniconti famously defended the corporate’s smokeless tobacco merchandise as protected. In a section of “60 Minutes” in 1986, he advised the correspondent Ed Bradley that there had been no scientific proof that smokeless tobacco had precipitated oral most cancers, although Mr. Bradley pointed to research that had completed simply that. Despite the shaky efficiency — which he later regretted — he was quickly promoted to president of the corporate.

But by then, Marc Buoniconti had been critically injured whereas taking part in linebacker for The Citadel, the navy faculty in Charleston, S.C., throughout a sport in opposition to East Tennessee State in Johnson City, Tenn., in October 1985. He was left paralyzed from the neck down.

Nick Buoniconti ultimately left U.S. Tobacco, saying he might now not dedicate himself full-time to the corporate whereas specializing in his son’s remedies in Miami.

Buoniconti’s devotion to the Miami Project — organizing fund-raising occasions like sports activities legends dinners, cajoling researchers to search out therapies and getting concerned in grant purposes — grew to become his focus. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio, he reminded the viewers that he was sporting the Super Bowl ring that commemorated the Dolphins’ undefeated season.

“I’d commerce this ring in and all my particular person accomplishments if one factor might occur in my lifetime,” he stated. “My son Marc desires that he walks, and as a father I would love nothing greater than to be by his facet.”

In addition to Marc, Mr. Buoniconti is survived by his spouse, Lynn (Weiss) Buoniconti; his daughter, Gina Buoniconti; one other son, Nicholas III; a stepson, Justin Weiss; 4 grandchildren; and his brothers Robert and Peter. His marriage to Terry Salamano resulted in divorce.

Buoniconti started displaying indicators of dementia in 2013. He had bother together with his reminiscence and stability. He fell incessantly. Two years later he confirmed signs suggesting dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and C.T.E. Further testing pointed more and more to the chance of C.T.E., which is characterised by elevated quantities of a protein, tau, that slowly kills mind cells. C.T.E. will be definitively identified solely in an post-mortem.

In Buoniconti’s ultimate years, Marc supplied the form of emotional assist that his father had given him after his catastrophic damage.

”Well, I ought to’ve been useless years in the past,” he stated within the HBO documentary. “It’s solely due to my father that I’m right here immediately. It’s solely due to my father that I”m capable of stay the life that I do.”

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