“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Nick Buoniconti was born on December 15, 1940. and attended Cathedral High School, where he was a standout football player. He who helped the Cathedral Panthers capture the Western Massachusetts AA Conference title in 1955. He went on to play at Notre Dame and was an All-America guard and linebacker.
The Patriots drafted him in the thirteenth round of the 1962 AFL Draft. His confidence and hardnosed play impressed his coaches, and by the first game of the season, he was the Patriots’ starting middle linebacker. At season’s end he was second-team All-AFL. The following year, 1963, he earned the first of his seven consecutive first-team All-AFL honors.
In one stretch in 1966, the Patriots defense, with Nick plugging up the middle, stymied the potent running attacks of the AFL’s four best teams in successive games. The Buoniconti-led defense held the Kansas City Chiefs to just 76 yards rushing, the New York Jets to 29, the Buffalo Bills to 52, and the San Diego Chargers to 40.
He had captained his Notre Dame team and became the Patriots’ defensive captain. It was also a position he would also assume when he played with the Dolphins.
During his seven seasons in Boston, he led in pass interceptions with 24 and was the team’s leading tackler. Injuries in 1968, however, limited his play to eight games. Prior to the start of the 1969 season, in a surprise move, the Patriots announced that they had traded him to the Miami Dolphins.
Stunned by the trade, Nick considered retiring. After all, he had earned his law degree while playing for the Patriots. However, he decided to make the move and immediately picked up where he left off with the Patriots. In 1970, Nick was again named the team’s MVP.
The Dolphin defense accepted and reveled under the nickname "No-Name Defense." Under Don Shula’s no-nonsense approach, the team became the first NFL franchise to go undefeated and untied in the regular and post-season, and earned a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
Nick stuck around for 14 playing seasons (1962-1974, 1976). During that time he was first- or second-team All-AFL/AFC 10 times, and was named to eight AFL All-Star Games or Pro Bowls. He recorded 32 career interceptions, was named to the All-Time AFL Team in 1970.
As remarkable as his career has been in sports, Nick Buoniconti’s most challenging foe has turned into his passion and driving force. Since his son Marc suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in 1985, and he has focused most of his attention on raising awareness of, and funds for, spinal cord injury research. He and his family founded The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis to help in finding a cure for spinal cord injuries. To that end, through the direct involvement of the Buonicontis, more than $150 million had been raised in support of research programs. In that time, The Miami Project has grown to become internationally recognized as the leading research center for spinal cord injuries in the world.
Nick's hard work, determination, and self-confidence has earned him permanent recognition with his sport’s highest honor, election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Nick Buoniconte died on July 31, 2019 after a bout with pneumonia. He was 78 and had been in declining health, physically and mentally, in recent years and blamed his diminishment on the impact of a football career.