Nick Buoniconti, the driving force of the Dolphins’ famed “No-Name Defense,” passed away yesterday at the age of 78. He is survived by his wife, Lynn, two sons, Marc and Nick II, and a daughter, Gina.
Buoniconti inspired his teammates with his outstanding play and fiery leadership. During his seven years with the Dolphins, the team advanced to three straight Super Bowls (1971-73) and won twice (1972, 1973), with one of those wins coming after their unparalleled undefeated season in 1972. Buoniconti was only 5-11 and 220 pounds and was considered to be too small to play middle linebacker. However, as many coaches noted, he always “played bigger than his size” during a stellar 14-year career with the Dolphins and the Boston Patriots.
Until Jason Taylor was elected in 2017, Buoniconti was the only member of the Dolphins defense to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He joined the team in 1969 after playing seven seasons with the Patriots. During his tenure with the Dolphins, he was honored as the team’s Most Valuable Player three times (1969, 1970, 1973), named to the AFL All-Star game in 1969 and was selected to two Pro Bowls (1973, 1974) following the merger of the two leagues. In 1990, he was voted as a linebacker on the Dolphins’ Silver Anniversary all-time team, and on Nov. 18, 1991, he was enshrined on the Dolphins Honor Roll at Hard Rock Stadium. He also was a charter inductee in the Dolphins’ Walk of Fame on Dec. 4, 2011 and was voted as one of the Dolphins’ all-time top 50 players, as part of the franchise’s 50th season celebration in 2015.
Before joining the Dolphins, Buoniconti helped the Patriots capture the 1963 AFL Eastern Division title, and he played in five AFL All-Star games. Overall in his 14-year career, he played in 183 games and recorded 32 career interceptions. He was named to the All-Time AFL team in 1970, and overall was named a first team All-AFL/AFC choice eight times.
A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Buoniconti had an outstanding collegiate career at Notre Dame. Following his retirement from the Dolphins, he and his son, Marc, were the driving forces behind the establishment of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, one of the world’s leading research and treatment centers for spinal cord injuries.
Buoniconti was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001 after being named for the first time that year as a nominee from the pre-1976 era by the Hall’s Seniors Committee.