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Volume 26 No. 61
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Pro Football HOFer Nick Buoniconti Remembered For Off-Field Impact

Buoniconti was inducted into the Pro Football HOF in '01 after a long career as a productive LB
Photo: getty images

Pro Football HOFer NICK BUONICONTI, who following his playing career "raised half a billion dollars for research to cure paralysis while becoming one of the most distinguished and accomplished alumni in franchise history," died on Tuesday night after a bout with pneumonia at age 78, according to Barry Jackson of the MIAMI HERALD. Buoniconti had been in "declining health, physically and mentally, in recent years and blamed his diminishment on the impact of a football career that spanned 14 seasons." Buoniconti was "one of the most productive middle linebackers in pro football history, earning induction" into the Pro Football HOF in '01. But he "left an even greater legacy off the field as the co-founder of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis." Buoniconti "devoted much of his time" to that cause after his son, MARC, was "paralyzed by a collision" during a college football game in '85. After retiring following the '76 season, Buoniconti "worked for a time as a sports agent, representing baseball stars BUCKY DENT and ANDRE DAWSON and nearly 30 other athletes." He was also president of the U.S. Tobacco Company during the late '70s and early '80s and "became familiar to a new generation of football fans in his role as a commentator on the HBO program 'Inside The NFL.'" His 23-year run on the program ended in '01 (MIAMI HERALD, 8/1).

DEDICATED TO A CAUSE: THE ATHLETIC's Chris Perkins wrote perhaps Buoniconti's "most high-profile and most rewarding achievement was founding the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis," which have raised more than $500M for "research on and treatment of spinal cord injuries." The Miami Project is "one of the largest spinal cord research centers in the world" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/31). In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib writes Buoniconti following his son's paralysis was "dissatisfied with the lack of research on spinal cord injuries," and so he "spearheaded an effort to launch one" at the Univ. of Miami. Athletes, entertainers and even presidents "found it hard to say no when Buoniconti came asking for their time, money or both" (PALM BEACH POST, 8/1). In Boston, Tom Keegan writes the same qualities -- "boundless determination, refusal to accept labels, intelligence -- that allowed an undersized linebacker not considered a pro prospect to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, made him ideally suited to raising money for a cause so personal" (BOSTON HERALD, 8/1). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: “The amount of money raised and the amount of people saved who were in this certain terrible circumstance is directly attributable to Nick Buoniconti” ("PTI," ESPN, 7/31).

MORE THAN AN ATHLETE: In Miami, Greg Cote writes Buoniconti's life was "so much bigger than football." His "impact on the field was great, but his impact off the field was even greater." He was a "champion both ways" (MIAMI HERALD, 8/1). ESPN's Chris Mortensen: “He is one of the most accomplished men to have played the game of football" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/31). In Ft. Lauderdale, Hyde & Lerner write Buoniconti's football accomplishments "would be life-defining for most players." Yet his "life's work, as he defined it, began with the crushing tragedy of his son" (South Florida SUN SENTINEL, 8/1). Also in Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes, "Here's what set Buoniconti apart from most sports stars: He had a second act." And his second act "dwarfed his football success" (South Florida SUN SENTINEL, 8/1).