Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti died on Tuesday at the age of 78. He is survived by his wife Lynn, their two sons, Marc and Nick II, and their daughter Gina.
Buoniconti starred for the Boston Patriots in the 1960s and then the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s, emerging as a leader of the “No-Name Defense” that helped Miami to a victory in Super Bowl VII to complete the NFL‘s first and only undefeated season. During the 1973 season when the Dolphins repeated as Super Bowl champions, Buoniconti set a then-team record by recording 162 tackles.
A six-time AFL All-Star and two-time Pro Bowler, Buoniconti was also named to the All-AFL Team eight different times, with five first-team and three second-team selections. He is a member of both the Patriots Hall of Fame and the Dolphins Honor Roll, and in 2001 was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the Senior Committee.
The Hall of Fame released the following statement:
“Nick Buoniconti was a true hero of the game. 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. The entire Hall of Fame family mourns Nick’s passing and we will keep his wife Lynn and his entire family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Buoniconti was open later in life about his struggles with dementia, and in 2017 he pledged to posthumously donate his brain to CTE research.
“This is not easy, it’s difficult. I’m not half the man I used to be,” Buoniconti said then. “I don’t do this for myself. I do it for the thousands of others who will follow me. My life, as I know it, has been taken away from me. … I hope that my story and contribution will help thousands of others who are in this journey, or who will follow me.”
Doctors confirmed that Buoniconti had brain issues possibly related to his football career, but would not state publicly that he had CTE, as the diagnosis is not currently possible prior to death. “I feel lost. I feel like a child,” Buoniconti told Sports Illustrated at the time.
The following year, Buoniconti joined with Harry Carson and Phil Villapiano to support an initiative called Flag Football Under 14, which advises that children not play tackle football prior to turning 14 years old.
Buoniconti and his son Marc, who was paralyzed from the shoulders down as a result of a football injury, also spearheaded the establishment of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, one of the world’s leading research and treatment centers for spinal cord injuries.