Dolphins Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti passed away Wednesday at the age of 78, ending a years-long struggle with dementia.
There was also the likelihood that the Dolphins legend had CTE caused by an estimated half-billion hits to the head suffered during a football career that began at age 9 and continued until he retired from the Dolphins in 1976 at age 36.
Convinced that “CTE has taken my life away,” Buoniconti pledged his brain to science, a fitting final act for a man who dedicated half his life championing scientific research in his quest to cure for paralysis after son Marc was confined to a wheelchair, the result of a neck injury suffered on the football field.
After his final NFL game, Buoniconti dropped to his knees, kissed the ground, “And thanked God that I’d never gotten seriously hurt,” he once told Sports Illustrated. “Fourteen-year career? I could’ve been maimed.”
It would take decades before the true cost of those 14 years would reveal itself. With it, Buoniconti embarked on a rare public battle, including a deeply personal, 75-minute HBO documentary in which football fans saw this once-fiery Italian struggling with the simplest of tasks and, compounding matters, still cognizant that it wasn’t supposed to be that way.
Drawing parallels to his situation and Marc’s, Buoniconti said, “We’re both, in a way, paralyzed. I’m paralyzed because I can’t do the basic things in life. It’s not pleasant to think about where my life is going to take me.”
The man who once refused to blame football for his son’s condition had come full circle regarding his own, saying, “I’m positive of that … football caused this.”
Buoniconti recalled playing a significant portion of the Super Bowl following the 1971 season in a daze after getting knocked out, but who’s to say whether those seven seasons in Miami would have made a difference in what rightfully would have been his golden years?
“When we were growing up, football gave everything to us,” Marc told HBO. “And then look at what it did to me. And now look at what it’s doing to him.
“I mean, do you love the game? Hate the game? Do you love it and hate it?”