Nick Buoniconti was a 5'11", 220 lb. defensive lineman for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Considered too small to play linebacker in the pros, the Boston Patriots selected him in the 13th round of the 1962 AFL Entry Draft, with the 102nd overall pick. He would wear the number 85 jersey throughout his NFL career.
Through seven seasons in Boston, Buoniconti played 91 games, collecting 24 interceptions and earning four First-Team All-Pro selections, as well as five Pro Bowl appearances. Miami picked him up prior to the 1969 season.
His first season in Miami, Buoniconti appeared in 13 games as their middle linebacker, starting all of them. He made over 100 tackles, including 15 along with a sack against the Patriots in a 38-23 loss in week 12. He also picked off three passes and collected approximately 3 sacks. Miami was the worst team in the AFL that season, at 3-10-1, but Buoniconti made his sixth Pro Bowl appearance and for the fifth time was honored as a first-team All-Pro. For more on Buonoconti, click on through.Buoniconti started all 14 games for the Dolphins at middle linebacker in their first NFL season, 1970. He made around 120 tackles, including 18 in a week three victory over the Oakland Raiders, 20-13. Miami finished the season with their best ever record, at 10-4, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time.
In 1971, Buoniconti again started every game for the Dolphins, again collecting around 120 tackles and one interception. In a week seven 20-14 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, he made 11 tackles and forced two fumbles. Miami finished the season with a 10-3-1 record, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-24 in two overtimes and the incumbent AFC Champion Baltimore Colts, 21-0 in the title game.
Buoniconti continued his streak of consecutive starts in 1972 through the undefeated Dolphins run, making around 130 tackles on the season, along with two interceptions. He picked off a Terry Bradshaw pass in Miami's 21-17 victory in the AFC Championship victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Miami's Super Bowl VII appearance, he intercepted a Billy Kilmer pass in the second quarter, returning it 32 yards to set up Miami's eventual game winning score, as Miami won 14-7. Buoniconti made his seventh Pro Bowl appearance following the season.
Buoniconti started each of the 13 games in which he appeared through the 1973 regular season. He made around 162 tackles (at the time an unofficial team record) and recovered three fumbles. In a 44-23 victory over the Patriots in week three, he returned a fumble 13 yards for his only Dolphins touchdown. Miami posted a 12-2 record on the season, the No-Name defense allowed a total of 150 points through 14 regular season games. After ther season, he was named to his eighth Pro Bowl roster.
In 1974, Buoniconti started 13 games. He made approximately 90 tackles and picked off two passes. Miami won the AFC East with an 11-3 record, qualifying for the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
Buoniconti missed 1975, and in 1976 played 11 games off the bench as the team finished with a 6-8 record. He was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He is a member of the AFL All-Time Team, the Boston Patriots All-1960s team, a Miami Dolphins Honor Roll inductee, and a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. He was also the 1990 recipient of the Walter Camp Man of the Year Award. After retirement, he found gainful employment with HBO as a co-host of Inside the NFL.
Miami has a long history of game changing linebackers. Who was the most dominant linebacker in Dolphins history?
Nick Buoniconti (661 votes)
Larry Gordon (14 votes)
AJ Duhe (269 votes)
Zach Thomas (2855 votes)
Mike Kolen (11 votes)
John Offerdahl (403 votes)
Doug Swift (22 votes)
Brian Cox (158 votes)
Bob Brudzinski (23 votes)
4416 total votes