Built around an extensive interview at his Bridgehampton home, the new HBO documentary “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti” documents just that – a long, winding road of highs and lows in and around football.
The program, which premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday, covers his days as a star linebacker for the undefeated Miami Dolphins of 1972, as well as his later incarnations as a television analyst on “Inside the NFL,” lawyer, agent and corporate executive.
But the heart of Buoniconti’s story centers on two of football’s darkest sides: In 1985, his son, Marc, was left a quadriplegic because of an injury while playing for The Citadel.
That tragedy led Buoniconti to co-found “The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis,” which through its fundraising arm has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars for research into spinal cord injuries.
Now Buoniconti, 78, is suffering from physical and cognitive impairment of his own that he believes was caused by his football career.
While he is cogent and insightful in the interview, his speech is halting, and he at times struggles to find the right words to convey his thoughts. He needs help getting around physically, including at a recent screening of the documentary in Manhattan that he attended with friends and relatives.
Buoniconti says in the documentary that after his final NFL game in 1976, “I ended up on my hands and knees, kissed the ground and thanked the Lord that I didn't get seriously injured . . . I thought I was walking away in one piece. Little did I know later on it would come back to haunt me.”
He adds, “I was looking forward to my golden years, which was playing golf every day and traveling around the world. But I can't, I can't do that anymore, because my brain won't let me . . . I loved it. You know, I always loved it. Still do. But, you know, I’m paying the price.”
Says his former HBO Sports colleague Cris Collinsworth, “Nick will be remembered for the right things, for taking on challenges, for not being afraid, for being so brutally honest with friends and family and people that sometimes it hurt. Nick has slugged his way through a lot of tough stuff. And he did it without bowing. He did it with dignity. He did it with tenaciousness that I don't know anybody else that really falls into that category.”