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The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti

The Extraordinary Story of the NFL (and Notre Dame) Great

Photo courtesy of HBO

I will admit, I’ve spent most of this week with my head in the sand. While witnessing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Clemson Tiger game in person was brutal, seeing the crushed players after the game about broke my heart. But today I’ve started to emerge and catch up on my reading. Not just Notre Dame football reading, but some New Year’s reading as well. (Note: This story was originally posted in January of 2019. Re-posting in light of Nick Buoniconti’s passing this week.)

I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, or if you’ve picked one, but many of my friends are posting about their “word of the year.” You know, a catchy, motivational word to get the new year off to a great start. I’ve seen some pretty good ones so far: thankful, hopeful, believe, forgiveness, love, health; and yes, I have picked one myself, but I’d like to add a second word to my “word of the year.” Concussion.

I know what you’re going to say. College football, the NFL, and the NHL are all making strides to make their games safer for the players, and yet still entertaining for the fans; but I’m not sure they are doing enough. While I think both college football and the NFL are moving in the right direction, I still feel there is more work to be done. Yes, rules have been changed, equipment has been improved, and penalties for targeting have been added; but are we teaching the players how to play the game safer? In my opinion, targeting still happens way too much. Is the current penalty too light? Do the players not care about the dangerous consequences of such hits to the head? Or maybe they don’t completely understand the dangers. I’m not sure, but we need to teach the youth football players of today that targeting hits are not the way to play the game.

The NHL, though, has completely buried their head in the sand in my eyes. Did you watch the segment on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel when they addressed the NHL’s denial of CTE? If you haven’t seen it, please take a few minutes and watch it. It’s one thing to be hit in the game of football by another player who is running towards you. But in hockey, you have a 240 pound playeR (or possibly bigger), on skates, coming at you at a significant speed, and the impact is even more dangerous. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do think the NHL needs to recognize the dangers of hits to the head in hockey, to acknowledge the damage that has already been done, and to actively work towards making the game safer.

And then today in my email I received this press release from HBO. “THE MANY LIVES OF NICK BUONICONTI: The Extraordinary Story of the NFL Great, debuting exclusively on HBO on February 12th.

HBO Sports, which has produced Emmy®-winning biographies of pro football greats Vince Lombardi and Joe Namath, will present THE MANY LIVES OF NICK BUONICONTI, telling the remarkable tale of the 78-year old NFL Hall of Famer, whose story encompasses turns as a linebacker, lawyer, sports agent, broadcaster, executive and philanthropist. The feature-length documentary debuts TUESDAY, FEB. 12 (10:00-11:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

“Nick Buoniconti has lived an extraordinary life,” says Rick Bernstein, executive producer, HBO Sports. “We are grateful that Nick and his wife, Lynn, agreed to allow us to present the many chapters of this compelling story in the manner that Nick would expect it to be told: honest, raw and to the point.”

The son of a baker from the south end of Springfield, Mass., Nick Buoniconti’s early inner drive propelled him to a football scholarship at the University of Notre Dame in 1958, where he became a captain and All-American. Though considered undersized for the pros, he defied the odds and became a star defensive player in the AFL with the Boston Patriots, and later, with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. As the starting middle linebacker under legendary coach Don Shula, Buoniconti anchored the Dolphins’ famed “No Name Defense” as the team reached Super Bowl glory and recorded the only perfect season in NFL history in 1972.

Having earned a law degree at night while playing football, Buoniconti quickly made the transition to a successful attorney and sports agent after retiring from the NFL in 1976. In 1979, he also became a TV star when he started co-hosting HBO’s “Inside the NFL” with Len Dawson, a job he’d hold for more than two decades.

In fall 1985, life changed suddenly and tragically when his youngest son, Marc, was paralyzed from the neck down while playing football at The Citadel. As he grieved deeply, Nick made a vow: He wouldn’t rest until his son walked again. Within months, he co-founded The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which would become a world-renowned spinal cord and brain research center.

In 2001, Buoniconti entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with Marc introducing him from his wheelchair. For both men, it was one of the proudest moments of their lives. The induction came as the Miami Project and its fundraising arm, the Buoniconti Fund, continued to have unprecedented growth. Today, thanks in large part to Nick Buoniconti’s singular devotion, more than a half-billion dollars has been raised for spinal cord research.

But in his early 70s, Nick’s own health began to deteriorate. Today, he’s nearly immobile and suffers from severe neurological problems that include warning signs of CTE. Despite his condition, his sense of determination remains as strong as ever. With his wife, Buoniconti has established a research fund and agreed to donate his brain for study upon his death.

This film will intimately capture Nick Buoniconti, taking viewers through every step of his journey.

THE MANY LIVES OF NICK BUONICONTI is executive produced by Peter Nelson and Rick Bernstein; directed by Bentley Weiner; producer, Abtin Motia; writer, Aaron Cohen; editor, James Pilott. Liev Schreiber narrates.

I’m not sure how many of these stories we have to watch before real changes are made, but I think getting these stories out there will eventually bring the change that needs to happen. Set your DVR and catch up on the life of a Notre Dame great, Nick Buoniconti.

What’s your word of the year?

Cheers & GO IRISH!

[Note: In light of the passing of Nick Buoniconti, there will be an encore replay on Monday, August 5th, 2019, on HBO2 at 8:05pm.]