Aug. 3, 2001

Buoniconti Finally Getting Ultimate Recognition

AP Sports Writer

Nick Buoniconti of the Boston Patriots is shown in this 1963 file photo. Buoniconti will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on Saturday August 4, 2001.

MIAMI – About a decade ago, Nick Buoniconti stopped reading the newspapers and watching television when the Pro Football Hall of Fame selections were announced.

Buoniconti had given up hope of making the Hall of Fame, and he didn’t want to know the annual results. He couldn’t handle seeing or hearing his name passed over anymore.

It was one of the rare times when his instincts were wrong.

Buoniconti will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next Saturday as the old-timers candidate, a category reserved for players who completed at least 70 percent of their careers by 1976.

A quick and clever middle linebacker who was undersized and often overlooked, Buoniconti finally is getting football’s ultimate recognition.

“This is the top of the mountain for guys who have played the game,” said Buoniconti, who retired in 1976. “This is the final chapter in my football life.

“It’s a wonderful way to close the book. It’s just a phenomenal way. … After the induction, the Buoniconti chapter and book will be closed. And I think I will have accomplished an awful lot.”

Buoniconti was the leader of Miami’s “No-Name” defense that helped the Dolphins finish 17-0 in 1972 – the NFL’s only undefeated season – and post consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1973-74.

He is the first of the “No-Name” defense to be elected to the Hall of Fame, but the seventh member of that Miami team to be honored.

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for – somebody to be recognized from those great defensive football teams, and Nick is the logical one,” former Dolphins coach Don Shula said. “He was the captain of our defense, had great instinct, never made mental errors and was one of the great competitors I’ve ever been around on the football field.

“If a teammate made a mistake, he was on the teammate before the coach. He wanted to be perfect. He wouldn’t tolerate anybody not being totally prepared the way he was totally prepared. That’s the kind of guy you want leading your defense.”

Buoniconti was better prepared than his opponents. It was one of his best assets.

“I wasn’t a great player, I just had great fundamentals,” he said.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Buoniconti received a football scholarship to Notre Dame. An Italian kid from the south side of Springfield, Mass., who spent weekends working in his father’s bakery, Buoniconti felt out of place everywhere in South Bend except the football field. He earned a starting spot as a freshman when one of his teammates got injured.

That one chance was all he needed.

He dominated at the collegiate level, then did the same with the AFL’s Boston Patriots beginning in 1962. In seven AFL seasons, Buoniconti made six All-Star games.

Because Buoniconti had displayed strong leadership and play-making abilities, the Dolphins traded for him in 1969. Buoniconti had learned to read the offensive line’s movements at the snap of the ball and could determine exactly where the hole was going to develop.

Using his speed to get there, Buoniconti often would be waiting for the ball carrier.

He averaged 132 tackles during his first six years in Miami and made the Pro Bowl twice. He also finished his career with 32 interceptions – as many as any other linebacker in the Hall of Fame.

Most impressively, Buoniconti had a knack for making big plays in big games.

He intercepted a pass from Terry Bradshaw with about two minutes to play in the 1972 AFC championship game to preserve a 21-17 victory. Two weeks later in the Super Bowl, he picked off a pass and returned it 32 yards to set up Miami’s second, and decisive, touchdown in a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins.

“Nick Buoniconti is the greatest overachiever I ever played with,” former Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg said. “If you measure his physical tools, his size and the body – and not the size of the brain, the heart and the soul – it probably was a stretch for Nick to be in the league.

“Because of his temperament, his intelligence, his preparation and most importantly his emotional abilities, Nick was the heart and soul of that underrated defense.”

Nonetheless, it took Buoniconti 25 years to make it into the Hall of Fame. Playing almost half his career in the AFL probably caused his late selection. Buoniconti thinks he might have been slow to get in because he played with in the “golden era of middle linebackers.”

Buoniconti ‘s son, Marc, will be his presenter at Saturday’s induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio. It almost certainly will be an emotional speech.

Marc has been paralyzed from the neck down since a football accident in 1985. The Buoniconti s immediately realized the need for more spinal cord injury research and stepped to the forefront to help find a cure, creating the Buoniconti Fund and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

Buoniconti, who earned his law degree while playing football and probably would be practicing if not for the Miami Project, spends much of his time raising money for the center. He also is beginning his 23rd year as co-host of HBO’s “Inside The NFL.”

The Miami Project has raised about $10 million each year over the past 15 years for spinal cord injury research, he said. This year, the Buoniconti s are expecting to raise more than $13 million.

“There’s no excuse now to not finding a cure,” Marc said. “It’s just like in football with players and coaches. We have the best facility, the best funding in the world and the top-of-the-line researchers.

“It’s just a matter of time.”

Much like getting to Canton was for his father.

“That’s a special club, that Hall of Fame club, and he certainly belongs,” Shula said.

Buoniconti Makes Name For Himself In Canton

AP Sports Writer

Nick Buoniconti

CANTON, Ohio (AP) – Nick Buoniconti ‘s name was never called in the NFL draft. Later he played for the “No-Name Defense” in Miami.

Now ,after being bypassed for selection for years, Buoniconti will finally have his name engraved on a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He will be inducted Saturday along with coach Marv Levy, offensive linemen Mike Munchak, Jackie Slater and Ron Yary, wide receiver Lynn Swann and defensive end Jack Youngblood.

The road from overlooked collegian to the top player on the only unbeaten team in NFL history has left Buoniconti groping for a way to thank everyone when he steps to the podium on the front steps of the hall.

“There’s so much I’m grateful for,” said Buoniconti, who was selected by a seniors committee after he failed for 15 years to garner enough votes for induction. “They give you seven minutes, supposedly. I can’t say my name in seven minutes.”

He will receive help from his son, Marc, who will present his father in what promises to be a memorable moment. Marc was paralyzed from the neck down in a football accident in 1985. The Buoniconti family has worked tirelessly ever since – raising around $10 million annually over the last 15 years – in an effort to find a cure for paralysis.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Marc said of the quest for reaching that goal.

It was just a matter of time until Buoniconti received the acclaim he missed early in his professional career. An All-American at Notre Dame, Buoniconti was dismissed as too small and was passed over in the draft by every NFL team. He waited until the 13th round to finally be selected by the AFL’s Boston Patriots.

Buoniconti flourished in seven seasons with the Patriots and was later named to the AFL’s all-time team. He is best known, however, as the cornerstone of the Dolphins’ perfect season in 1972.

“I take great pride in the fact that I’m wearing the only ring in the history of the NFL that signifies that we had an undefeated season,” said Buoniconti, who has been an analyst on HBO’s “Inside the NFL” for the past 23 seasons.

“That’s a special club, that Hall of Fame club, and he certainly belongs,” said his coach in Miami, fellow club member Don Shula.

The new inductees will also be introduced during Monday night’s annual Hall of Fame exhibition game between the Dolphins and St. Louis Rams.