From a Hall of Fame career as a Boston Patriots and Miami Dolphins’ linebacker to a run of over three decades as a co-host of Inside The NFL to success as a lawyer, agent and executive to raising money for research into paralysis and neurological conditions, Nick Buoniconti has lived an incredible life. In fact, it seems hard to imagine that one man has done all that, and that makes the “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti” an appropriate title for the documentary HBO announced on him this week. That documentary will premiere on HBO Feb. 12; here’s more on it from their release.
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 77-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.”
Buoniconti has had a fascinating life, and it’s interesting to see HBO exploring his story. During his football career (he starred at Notre Dame, then with the AFL’s Boston Patriots and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, where he was part of their 1972 perfect season), he earned a law degree at night, and quickly transitioned into work as a lawyer and agent (representing everyone from Bucky Dent to Andre Dawson, and being dubbed “the meanest guy I ever negotiated with” by none other than George Steinbrenner) after retiring from the NFL in 1976. He joined Inside The NFL (then on HBO) in 1979, and served as a co-host there (alongside Len Dawson) through 2001. During the late 70s and the early 80s, Buoniconti was also the president of the U.S. Tobacco Company, and made headlines for his criticisms of studies linking smoking to cancer. And in 1985, his story took yet another turn.
1985 saw Buoniconti’s son Marc paralyzed from the neck down while playing football at The Citadel, and that led to the senior Buoniconti co-founding The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a Center of Excellence at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. That project is one of the leading centers of research on spinal cord and brain injuries, and Buoniconti and his family established The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis to help raise funds for it in 1992. That’s led to over $500 million being raised for research.
But Buoniconti is now suffering significant health problems of his own, and many of them may be linked to his football career. Recently, he opened up to Sports Illustrated‘s S.L. Price for an in-depth piece on his life and his cognitive issues that was published last May, titled “I Feel Lost. I Feel Like a Child’: The Complicated Decline of Nick Buoniconti.” Here’s part of its discussion on the challenges he now faces and one of the diagnoses he’s been given:
But few saw Buoniconti teeter as he walked off the stage, perhaps because of the atrophy to his right frontal cortex seen in 2015. Fewer noticed Nick motioning for Lynn as he bolted from the ballroom, perhaps because of the neurodegenerative dementia diagnosis just a month ago—or the yet-unspoken opinion that his condition could actually be corticobasal syndrome, complicated by an atypical Parkinsonian Syndrome or CTE or Alzheimer’s. He had to pee. And Lynn had to stand by to unbutton and unzip him and ensure that he’d emerge from the men’s room dry and unexposed.
…“I didn’t have any idea the price would be this debilitating,” Buoniconti says. “Had I known, would I have played? I had no alternative; there was no other way for me to get a college education. Football kept rewarding me—I can’t deny that. But I’m paying the price.” He shrugs, grins. “Everybody pays the piper.”
…Buoniconti’s UCLA MRI revealed significant atrophy in his frontal lobes, and the resulting diagnosis of corticobasal syndrome was what Green had been wrestling with all along. Not only is CBS a catchall that could indicate Alzheimer’s and CTE, but it’s often paired with corticobasal degeneration (CBD), a disease with a sharply defined prognosis. With no treatment or cure, “we didn’t want to pin that diagnosis on Nick because he could Google it,” [Miami Project co-founder Dr. Barth] Green says, “and see that the average life expectancy is six or seven years.”
We’ll see what elements of Buoniconti’s life this documentary (directed by Bentley Weiner, executive produced by Peter Nelson and Bernstein) focuses on and what it has to say, but there certainly is plenty of material here.