The death of middle linebacking legend Nick Buoniconti comes as no surprise. But it’s profoundly sad nevertheless. Because he was one of the baddest men ever to play pro sports in North America. Whether he was the nerve center of the two-time champion Dolphins No Name Defense that put together the only unbeaten season in the history of any league:
Or when he was telling Don Shula to go fuck himself:
Or his work on “Inside the NFL” and a Miller Lite ad back in a time when TV commercials were legitimately funny, and not just limp dickheads sitting in a drive thru talking about food:
Or being the patriarch of a family that spent his later years raising awareness of his CTE issues:
Or using the tragedy of his son Marc becoming paralyzed playing for The Citadel to set up a charity that helps people with spinal cord injuries walk again:
… with one of the best designed, most effective logos I’ve ever seen:
By way of full disclosure, this is semi-personal for me because I did some emceeing for one of their events and the Buoniconti family is incredible. But also semi-personal because, as much as any one player, Nick Buoniconti personified the futility of being a Patriots fan back in the 20th century.
Not many people remember this, but he was the best player in old AFL Boston Patriots ever had. And maybe the best player in team history before Tom Brady was found floating down the Nile in a basket.
The Pats drafted Buoniconti out of Notre Dame with the 102nd pick in 1961. He fell that far only because he was considered too small to take the punishment of pro ball. But by the second game of his rookie year was installed as the starting middle linebacker and never relinquished his spot. More to the point, he never left the field. He played every game of his first five seasons and only missed one in his sixth. For the most amateurish, incompetent franchise in pro football, electing him with the 102nd pick was like finding a wad of cash in the street.
But them being the Patriots of the time, they promptly took that wad, walked up the street and blew it on the first 3-Card Monte game they came across. In ’67 Buoniconti finally had an injury severe enough to keep him out of the lineup and he missed six games. Fearing that this was a sign his 5-11, 220 lb frame was finally breaking down, they traded him to Miami for the coins in Shula’s Cadillac’s ashtray.
In the Patriots defense, they were right about his body beginning to wear down. He did have to retire. Seven years later, 103 games, three straight Super Bowl appearances, two rings a million ballsy tackles and a Hall of Fame induction later. The living, breathing, winning symbol of the Patriots’ futility and the Dolphins’ sustained excellence.
Usually at a time like this you say something to the effect “There’ll never be another like Nick Buoniconti.” Let’s hope that’s not the case because we need all the guys like him we can get.