Nick Buoniconti, 78, Dies; All-Pro Linebacker Championed Medical Research

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Nick Buoniconti, a tenacious middle linebacker who won two Super Bowls in the 1970s with the Miami Dolphins and in retirement turned his doggedness to finding a cure for his son’s paralysis, died on Tuesday at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y. He was 78.

The son, Marc Buoniconti, the president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which his father helped found, announced the death. His said his father had been in hospice care.

Nick Buoniconti received a diagnosis of dementia in 2015 and two years later agreed to donate his brain to researchers at Boston University. They are to determine if his repeated head injuries as a player had caused chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

As of 2017, the university had found C.T.E. in 110 of the 111 former N.F.L players’ brains it had examined.

“I’m positive that football caused this,” Buoniconti said in “The Many Lives of Nick Bouniconti” (2019), an HBO documentary. In an interview for the film, he showed his frustration with the halting speech that his dementia had caused.

“I’m not mad at the game, I’m mad at the owners,” he said. “I think that we paved the way for the N.F.L. being what it is today. In other words, we, uh, we paved the way for them and they’re, they’re reaping all the benefits.”

He added, “Sorry, I’m not, uh, I’m not, uh, coherent.”

For many years Buoniconti was an intelligent, articulate and tough player forging an All-Pro career with the Boston Patriots and the Dolphins. Afterward he became a lawyer, a player agent, a TV sports personality, a corporate executive and the lead voice of the Miami Project.

Marc Buoniconti severely injured his spinal cord in a college-football game in 1985. For more than 30 years afterward, Buoniconti helped raise nearly $500 million for spinal cord and brain research carried out by the organization. He also played a critical role in directing the research and was a charismatic motivational speaker before scientists and researchers.

Dr. Barth Green, a neurologist and longtime chairman of the Miami Project, said in a phone interview: “People are walking now because of cellular transplants and the latest neuroengineering and bioengineering that has been applied to humans with disability. Nick was a stimulating force in that area, from bench to bedside. And this is someone who probably never took a science course.”

A full obituary will appear soon.


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