The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti (2019) Movie Script

The following is
a presentation of HBO Sports.
(birds chirping)
(wind blowing)
(distant dog barking)
Come over now.
At 78 years of age,
he can no longer
rely on himself.

And while that may
not sound too unusual,
if you know who he is,
and all he's done,
there's a certain shock
to how this final chapter
is unfolding.

there's no simple way
to look back on
a complex life lived...
(indistinct broadcast)
...and determine
if it's a tale that's happy
or sad.
I want to thank you fans
because you're behind us now!
(crowd cheering)
We usually think
of the lucky ones
as those able to do things
that change their paths
in extraordinary ways.
But no one ever completely
escapes the whims of fate...
that can end up defining
what their story becomes.
(big band playing
"In The Mood")
(projector whirring)

1940 in America.
The Great Depression
was approaching its end,
war had already begun
to rage an ocean away...
-...and Franklin Roosevelt
was reelected for
a third term as president.
And two weeks
before the year's end,
in Springfield, Massachusetts,
Nicholas Anthony
Buoniconti Jr. was born,
the first child of Nicholas Sr.
and his wife Pasqualina,
who ran a bakery
in the city's South End.
My childhood was
magical because...
I lived in an all
Italian neighborhood.
There was no crime.
It was such a great
time to grow up.
This was a dream childhood.

The bakery was
a central part of our life.
Mercolino's was founded
by my grandfather,
Henry Mercolino,
and he sold it to my father,
and together, they got up
every morning at 4:30
to go out and make
the fresh bread.
We ate the bread
every single night,
and it was...
it was delightful.
That work ethic
that my father had
was instilled in me.

The Buonicontis lived
in a two-family home
on Margaret Street,
where the youngest
of the family's
three boys, Peter,
watched his big brother's
remarkable tale
begin to unfold.
When I was
eight years old,
I realized
just how good
my brother was
in sports.
He was my idol.
I mean, he was
the whole family's idol.
He had three things
going for him:
He was the best athlete
in the South End,
he was one of the smartest
kids in the South End,
and he was the toughest
kid in the South End.
So, he was just a special kid.
Newsreel Narrator:
The Perils of Pauline
weren't as tense
as the balloting for
All-America guard honors.
Nick Buoniconti, Notre Dame's
bruising 210-pound co-captain,
drew heavy support
for defensive dandies
-that rocked Irish opposition.
While he was great
at all sports,
it was football that earned
the kid from Springfield
a scholarship to Notre Dame,
making him the first
in his family to go to college.
As a co-captain
his senior year,
he led the team in tackles
and was named an all-American.
But at just five-foot, eleven,
and a little over 200 pounds,
it didn't appear a pro career
was much of an option.
My coach didn't recommend me
for pro ball because he said
I was too small.
He said, "Nick Buoniconti
will run through the wall,
but the hole he leaves
will be small."
And I didn't get
drafted by the NFL.
I just got drafted by the AFL,
the Patriots in the 13th round.
On my first day of practice,
I got into a fistfight
with the tight end.
Mike Holovak was the coach,
and he chased me
out of practice
because he said...
I don't know what he said.
It's, it's, uh...
Everything is jumbled
for me, you know?
It's just not...
It's just not
possible for me to do...
to do it without stumbling.
(distant crowd cheering)
By 1963, Buoniconti's
second year with the Patriots,
he was an all-star,
one of the best linebackers
in the upstart
American Football League.
He also married his
high school sweetheart.
And by 1966,
Nick and Terry Buoniconti
had three small children,
Gina, Nick III, and Marc.
Juggling football and having
a family was difficult.
What was more difficult is,
I started going to law school,
and I would practice
until two o'clock every day,
and then I would study
in the law library
and brief cases.
Yeah, it was... it was crazy.
He just loved his education.
He loved to further it,
keep his mind busy.
And it made sense to him
that attending law school
would be a big help
to him down the road.
Once I got my law degree,
I was determined
not to let football
rule me, you know?
But that determination
was tested in 1969
when the Patriots traded
him to the struggling
Miami Dolphins.
He briefly entertained
thoughts of retirement,
but ultimately negotiated
a long-term deal for himself
that put him, at age 28,
on a roster full of youngsters,
like second-year
safety Dick Anderson.
(crowd cheering)
Nick was a very serious
player, and, um,
he was a leader,
and we had
a young team.
It was
an expansion team.
Nick was able to come in
and immediately become
the leader of our defense.
They were a very bad team.
A matter of fact,
the first year,
we only won three games.
Until Shula got there,
and then after that,
it was, you know,
a different...
a different story.
I think there's gonna
be a tremendous amount
of pressure on you, Don,
because you've come
from a winning team,
and they're gonna expect you
to produce a winner overnight.
The thing is, as I mentioned,
I'm gonna work as hard
as anybody can work
to make the Miami Dolphins
a winner as close as--
in the near future
as I possibly can.

Don Shula had been one of
the most successful coaches
in football with
the Baltimore Colts.
But coming to Miami in 1970
was a turnaround job.
And he wasn't sure number 85,
the starting middle
linebacker he inherited,
was a piece of the puzzle.
Before I took the job, I really
didn't know a lot about Nick.
But when I first saw him,
I couldn't believe
that a guy that was that small
had been able to accomplish
as much as he accomplished
as a player.
So, I was looking at him...
"This is the guy?"
You know,
"I've gotta work with him?"
When you reported
here with the veterans
for the spring session,
you were told to gain
a few pounds before reporting.
Is this your normal
playing weight?
No, right now, I'm about, uh,
I figure about 12 pounds
under playing weight.
I weighed in about
210 this morning,
but I don't anticipate
any trouble.
I figure I'll go in
about 215 into camp,
and I'll go from there.
If I have to gain weight,
then I'll just eat
some extra meals.

Buoniconti might've had to look
for extra meals here and there,
but his intensity
needed no boost,
in the cafeteria or beyond.
One day, going to lunch,
Nick got fed up with the food,
and he threw the tray
at the chef.
The food did improve after that.
So, you know, he could be
fiery when he wanted to be.
There was one time
when Shula was getting angry
at Dick Anderson,
and, uh, I intervened,
and I told Shula
to go fuck himself.
I thought he was out of line.
He didn't like that.
He took me aside,
and he said,
"Don't you ever tell me
to go fuck myself again."
And I didn't.
He was the boss,
and I was the player.
And he let me know it.
If Nick felt that he was right,
he would do whatever
he had to do
to get his point across.
He'd be their attorney,
the attorney for the defense.
The best quality that he had
was he was this competitive,
ferocious fighter.
I mean, the guy
wouldn't give up.
-He was very intelligent.
The more I got to know him,
the more I realized that I had
something that was very,
very special on my hands.
And from there, the coach
would take his captain
and the Dolphins
on an historic run.
-("I'll Take You There" playing)
-Oh, ho
I know a place
Ain't nobody crying
It goes to Kiick again!
Announcer 2:
Here's a handoff to Morris
going the other way!
Csonka-- Csonka breaks
loose of tackles!
And he's going in
for the touchdown!
Ain't no smiling faces
Under Shula,
Miami quickly became
one of the NFL's best teams,
with Buoniconti
anchoring a unit
that became known as
the "No-Name Defense,"
dominant, but with few
individual stars.
I'll take you there
They love the No-Name
Defense here in Miami.
I'll take you there
60 Minutes correspondent
Steve Kroft began his career
working as a local broadcaster
in Florida in the 1970s,
and years later, would become
friends with Buoniconti.
There were really
too many names.
It was part of
the reason why
they didn't have
any names. Um...
I think that Nick
and Dick Anderson were
the two most famous
people on the defensive,
Nick by quite a margin.
I mean, he was
a 215-pound linebacker.
Nick was really the center
of that defense.
You know,
he was the alpha dog.
He's an alpha dog
in every room that he's in.
I'll take you there
And by 1972,
his team was
the unquestioned alpha dog
of the National
Football League.
Newsman: It is
so recorded in the folklore
of professional football,
on any given day,
any team could defeat any other.
But this year,
it may not be so,
for no team yet during
the regular season
has yet defeated
the mighty Miami Dolphins.
Hut... hut!
Do you fellas have
any feeling that maybe
you're doing something
that would be considered
historic in football?
Yeah, I want it to be historic
because I won't be satisfied
unless we go 17 and 0.

Miami went to Superbowl VII
still unbeaten
and faced off against
the Washington Redskins.
Kilmer's quick flip,
Buoniconti at the 50,
45, 40!
Buoniconti out of bounds.
Led by Buoniconti
and the defense,
the Dolphins won
the game 14 to seven
and finished off the only
perfect season to date
in NFL history.
Superbowl VII is over.
The Miami Dolphins have
not only won the Superbowl,
but they've done
something unprecedented.
It was great to be
a Superbowl winner.
I felt like I contributed
really good.
Being the only undefeated team
in the history of the game was,
was really special to me.
(crowd cheering)
Well, it took
a while to grasp,
you know, what
the accomplishment was.
But the more
you thought about it,
the more you realized that now,
we're the only team
that's ever done it.
Only one team was perfect.
'Cause we are
the Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins,
number one
Yes, we're
the Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins,
number one
The accomplishment
would be not only momentous
in the lives of the team
and their fans,
but was also a catalyst
in reviving the resort city
the Dolphins called home.
It was a great time to be in
Miami when that was going on.
The town had been
downtrodden for a while,
and the Dolphins
played a big part
in the resurrection
and rebirth of Miami.
-And Nick was one of
the centerpieces of it.
After the Superbowl, we go
to Joe's Stone Crabs in Miami,
and I would take
my Superbowl ring off,
give it to the waiter,
he would, in turn,
give it to the chef,
and we got the best stone crabs
you ever had in your life.
Nick wasn't alone in doing that.
I know I enjoyed doing that.
I know that, uh, our other
players enjoyed doing it.
But Nick, he used to like
to flash that ring around.
I love this ring.
I'll always...
I'll always treasure this ring.

Buoniconti and the Dolphins
would win a second
Superbowl ring
by repeating
the following year.
But in 1975,
the team missed
the playoffs,
as their defensive captain
sat out the entire season
with a hand injury.
I was not ready to retire
when I got hurt in '75.
But, uh,
I was willing to retire.
But they offered me more money
than I had ever seen before.
It was, like, $50,000,
which was not a lot of money
today, but it was then.
I bought myself a Mercedes.
And, uh, I came back to play
one more year for Shula.
Well, I decided, you know,
this was gonna be
my last year, it's my 15th.
As far as my pension
is concerned,
it's a good place to stop.
I just don't wanna hang on.
I don't wanna go on again.
And this is it,
I'm calling it quits.
Narrator: The last game
of one of the more
improbable careers
in NFL history came
in December of 1976,
in front of the home fans
at the Orange Bowl.
It was against
the Minnesota Vikings,
and I'll never forget it.
I ended up
on my hands and knees,
kissed the ground,
and thanked the Lord
that I didn't get
seriously injured.

I thought it--
that I was walking away
in one piece.
Little did I know, later on,
it would come back to haunt me.

(projector whirring)
If football was
the foundation
of the first 35 years
of Nick Buoniconti's life,
his next chapter would
expand his horizons
far beyond the field.
Still, to his children,
he would continue to be
the middle linebacker
they'd always idolized.
Growing up,
my dad was my hero.
I emulated him
growing up,
in the yard,
playing football.
My brother did too.
And all the Dolphins,
for that matter. We always...
We were always Dolphins fans,
and we were either Nick
Buoniconti or Mercury Morris,
depending on whether we were
playing on offense or defense.
So, that's how
it went every day
in our backyard.
I think what
most impressed me,
in what you could
see in my father,
was his work ethic,
and that he
always believed
that you needed to perform
to the best of your
ability at all times.
The education, the manners,
the way you carry
I mean, it had to be
at the utmost level.
I remember
when I was in Pop Warner,
probably about 12 years old,
and I was loafing on the field.
They gave this
ball to this kid,
and he ran around the corner.
I probably could've
chased him down,
but I totally gave up
on the play.
My dad walked down the stands.
The next thing I know,
he's got me by the face mask,
and he said, "You're playing
like a fucking pussy."
And he said,
"If you continue
to play like this,
I'm gonna rip you off
this fucking field."
And I was just, I was shocked.
But I was so angry
'cause he was right.
When it came
to high school football,
he was not ashamed of sending
notes down to the coaches
about what's going
on with the defense
that they were playing
or the offense
that they were playing.
I mean, how do you say no
to what Nick Buoniconti...
and Don Shula, by the way,
'cause Mike Shula was our
quarterback in high school.
Both my mom
and Mrs. Shula
kicked them
to the top of the stands
because of all the crap they'd
be saying. You know, like,
Oh my God, I can't believe
they're calling this play.
I can't believe they're
calling that play.
And the coaches would
be like, oh, you know...
What do you do?
I'd probably take
their advice if I was them.

And my clients, two people
that I really believe in,
my ex-teammates,
and if they're
given an opportunity
to play the National League or
the Canadian League this year,
an opportunity to redeem
themselves to society,
and the only way they
can redeem themselves
is to become
useful citizens,
then I think it could make
the court very, very proud.
While Buoniconti had
worked as a lawyer
in the off-seasons during
his football career,
after retiring,
he took it up full-time.
And soon,
also began representing
other athletes as an agent.
His client list
included Miami native,
and future Hall of Fame
outfielder Andre Dawson.
When I first met Nick,
I was somewhat
in awe of him
because of
who he was.
My impression was
that he was
pretty much
a straight shooter.
He spoke what
he believed, and, um,
I was pretty impressed with him,
and at that point, I hired him.
In 1981, Buoniconti
helped make Dawson
one of the highest paid
players in baseball,
negotiating a six-year
contract extension
with the Montreal Expos
worth a million dollars a year.
I got that call from
from him, and he said,
"Are you sitting down?" I said,
"Yeah, I'm sitting down."
He said, "Well,
I want you to know
you're gonna be the next
six million dollar man."
It was a pretty
ecstatic moment.
I was a good negotiator.
Matter of fact,
George Steinbrenner,
in his book,
said that I was
the toughest guy
he ever negotiated with.
I was-- When Bucky Dent
hit the home run
that won the pennant
for the Yankees,
I negotiated his contract.
Buoniconti might've
been tough at the table,
but by no accounts,
did he extend
much of a personal
touch with his clients.
I don't recall him
picking up the phone
too, too much.
You know, he wasn't
a hands-on type.
No, I was not
a hand-holder.
Everybody kissed their butts,
but I wasn't about
to kiss anybody's butt.
I told them, you hit
and I'll get you the money.

Eventually, he left
his agent days behind
to focus on other pursuits,
among them, a job
he'd gotten in 1979,
cohosting HBO's weekly
Inside the NFL series,
alongside former Kansas City
Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson.
And I'm really happy
to be working with you
this year, Nick Buoniconti.
Thank you, Len.
We go back a long way.
I guess we played
against each other
for almost 15 years
of my career, and...
I remember those beady eyes,
number 16, wearing that
Kansas City outfit,
and it's really great
for the first time
in my life to be
on the same team.
And while he enjoyed becoming
a familiar fixture on TV,
his fame helped him land
a very different job in 1983,
at the company US Tobacco,
a top manufacturer of
smokeless tobacco products,
where he'd been a spokesperson
and board member for years.
The CEO of the company,
Lou Bantle, offered me
a senior vice president's job,
and, uh, I took it.
I loved the corporate world.
I was making
at least 10 times
what I was making
in my best years
in the NFL.
And, uh, yeah,
I was a good executive.
I was, I was tough,
like I always was.
My first impression of Nick
was a man of intensity.
I thought he was good-looking.
Nick could be difficult,
certainly demanding,
but I liked him immensely.
Nick's not a classic
corporate executive.
Nick didn't go to Wharton.
You know, Nick was
an instinct guy.
That's why he was
a fabulous middle linebacker.
People at US Tobacco,
they were terrified of him!
They said the worst
day at US Tobacco
is when you open the elevator
doors and there was Nick,
because you were stuck with him.
He would know your job
as well as you should've,
and he would rapid-fire,
machine-gun pellet people
with questions,
until he got
the answer he wanted.
So, people would come
out of the elevator,
like, stumbling.
Or they'd have to go
to the lunchroom
and have a cup of coffee.
It was... that was Nick.
(clock ticking)
Ed Bradley:
The people who are
dipping smokeless
may think they're avoiding
the dangers of tobacco
by not smoking,
but there is substantial
evidence that they're not.
In February 1985,
Nick Buoniconti,
the corporate executive,
was thrust into
the national spotlight
when he was chosen by
his company to defend it
in an investigative report.
The science,
as we know it today,
tells us that smokeless tobacco
has never been
scientifically established
to cause any harm to humans,
that includes oral cancer.
I was always amazed
at Nick during 60 Minutes.
I mean, he wasn't
afraid of Ed Bradley.
He knew what his job was.
There is no one saying
that it does cause a problem.
The Surgeon General
says it does.
-The American Health
Foundation says it does.
-Cause, okay. Okay, cause.
I mean, it was a very
difficult interview.
And it was really the first
time that Nick had been
in a situation that had
been that controversial
and that confrontational.
Nick was used to people
saying yes to him.
Scientists who are funded
through the Smokeless
Tobacco Research Council
say that that has not been
scientifically established
to cause any harm to humans.
It's... It's hard for me
to look, look at that clip.
I was not aware of the dangers
of smokeless tobacco
at that point.
No one likes negative publicity.
And, uh...
it was negative, you know.
It was really negative.
And so... I have
to live with it.
And I have lived with it.
I think that if anybody knows
what causes oral cancer,
then they ought to stand up
and say what causes oral cancer
'cause they would save
a lot of people a lot
of agony and suffering.
My feeling is, he handled
himself very well,
better than most CEOs
that we interview
and ask tough questions to.
You know, he was
playing for, you know,
US Tobacco was his team.
He was leading the company.
I mean, everybody gets punched
in the balls by 60 Minutes.
I mean, you know...
But I think Lou Bantle
liked the fact
that he took it on the chin,
one for the team, and...
So, it didn't affect his status.
In fact, it... pah-choo!

Sure enough, four months
after that report aired,
Buoniconti was named
his company's president
and chief operating officer.
The baker's boy was
now 44 years old,
already a model of
success after football
in every which way.
His three children
were flourishing, too,
with Gina at
the University of Florida,
and his boys following
in their dad's footsteps
as middle linebackers.
Nick at Duke,
and Marc at The Citadel.
1985 was Marc's
sophomore season.
On October 26th,
his team went on the road
to play East Tennessee State.
In the first quarter,
he made a seemingly
routine tackle
that would change
his life forever.
It's hard to express
exactly what the feeling was
because there was no feeling.
It's just...
the realization
that you can't move,
that you can't breathe.
And I looked down,
and I didn't even
know it was my arm
'cause it was just
laying there very odd.
Until I kind of followed
it with my eyes,
and I realized it was
connected to my shoulder.
And right then,
in that split second,
I knew I was paralyzed.

It was a beautiful
fall afternoon,
and, uh, I got a phone call.
And the doctor said,
"Your son, uh...
"Your son...
dislocated his neck,
and he's gonna be
a quadriplegic for
the rest of his life."
I fell to my knees,
and, uh, and I... I really...
was, you know, just...
I couldn't believe it.
It was just traumatic.

After the phone call,
I went out and told
his mother
that Marc was paralyzed,
and, of course, she cried.

The doctor said,
"Please get here
as soon as you can.
He's dying."
I cried and I cried
and I cried and I cried.
And-And then...
It's very difficult
talk about it.

Nick and Terry flew
to Tennessee that night,
as everyone in
the family tried in vain
to make sense of
what had happened.
I just kind of shut down,
trying to get to the airport,
trying to... process it all,
at the same time, crying.
Didn't really... bellow out
a huge cry until you,
till you walk in
and see your brother.
I mean, that's... (gulps)
...that's pretty tough.
(sniffles, sighs)
That is a life-changing moment.
That's all you can say.

He had... tubes
in his nose and throat,
and he was breathing by--
with the help of a respirator.
And, uh...
You know, that's
how you see your son.
You know, it just...
it's just not...
not the way I expected it.
You know?
It's still vivid.
Still vivid.
Still vivid,
like it happened yesterday.
I have nightmares about that.
Nick III: I've never seen
my father cry, I don't think,
or breakdown,
or anything like that,
until then.
Then, of course,
no reason, but, you know,
I think my dad talked
about blaming himself
for playing football,
and all this crap, and...
No one ever thought
that but him,
but he did feel...
a lot of responsibility
'cause his son was
following in his footsteps.

I don't know who got
their first, honestly.
By then, I was pretty out of it,
and I think they were
medicating me pretty much.
But the part that I remember
was they were all there,
and that's when my dad was
by my side,
um, holding my hand.
I don't know
how he mustered up
the energy to say this or...
how he came up with this,
but he said all the right words.
Looked me in my eyes,
and he could see
that I was dying there.
I couldn't talk
because of all the tubes
in my nose and throat
and everything.
But he could see in my eyes,
"Dad, help me."
So, he looked at me
and said, "Marc,
"I promise
that I'll do everything
in my power to help you."
I, uh, I made that promise
not knowing
the challenges ahead of me.
Uh... I had called Duke,
and I had called Harvard,
and they told me that
the... the best place for, uh,
for me to take Marc was
the University of Miami
because they had a...
a specialist there,
Dr. Barth Green.
Little did we know
that we had
the best neurosurgeon
in the world right
in our backyard.
So, it was decided then
that let's go to Miami.

They wanted to get Marc
down here
as quickly as possible.
Everybody agreed that this was
the right place for him
'cause we had established
a nationally recognized
spinal cord injury program.
It's a little early. He's just
been here less than 24 hours
to make a definite statement.
I think where someone's
alive, there's always hope.

The fact is because Marc was
in great physical condition
and very strong
mentally and physically,
he had that ability to be
one of the few survivors of...
of that level injury
at the top of his spine.
I wasn't sure
Marc was gonna live
until Dr. Green assured me
that he was gonna live.
It was a very difficult
time because...
I had no idea...
what, you know,
what was gonna happen to him.
Nick III:
I think we cried... (sighs) and on, nonstop
for three or four days.
I don't know. It was like that,
and then that was it.
Then it was, all right.
What are we gonna do?
How are we gonna get
him out of his wheelchair?
This is not...
This is not
an acceptable scenario,
and let's get to work.
So, that literally is how
that went-- Cry, cry, cry,
and then...
put the hammer down.
After Marc's injury,
Nick realized he couldn't
go into the laboratory
and do cellular transplants,
or create new
surgical procedures.
But what he could do
was let the world know
that anything could be solved,
and together, we came
up with the concept
of the Miami Project.
Less than two months
after the accident,
on December 16th, 1985,
the first fundraiser
for that concept
took place in Miami during
Monday Night Football.
The Patriots were
playing the Dolphins
at the Orange Bowl.
Uh, and, uh, American Express
said they would match
all the money
that we raised at that game.
And we raised $250,000,
and that was the beginning
of the Miami Project.
I played on the greatest team
in the history of
the National Football League,
and you were behind us then!
I wanna thank you fans
because you're behind us now!
-Thank you very much.
Nick was not tall,
but he was eight feet tall
out on that football field
'cause he was
so well respected.
And when he spoke,
his voice thundered,
and the crowd was silenced,
because he said,
"I'm gonna change things.
We're gonna change things."

Once Marc got injured,
Nick knew that was
his life's mission.
Within months,
we raised millions of dollars,
and we went out
and recruited the number one
neuroscience superstar
in the world,
Ake Sager from
the Karolinska in Sweden.
And we just went out, we said,
who's the best in the world?
And Nick said,
I don't care what he costs,
you get him here.
And they said, there's no way
he's gonna leave Sweden,
but they hadn't met
Nick Buoniconti.
So, that's what happened,
that's history.

Life for the Buonicontis
had forever been altered.
And while the goal
of the Miami Project
was to forge hope
for breakthroughs
in spinal cord research,
there was still a sobering
reality to confront.
The 20-year-old Marc
now had a new life
as a quadriplegic
to embark upon.
It would take him eight months
to get off a respirator,
and over a year to come home.
Marc: Well, getting off
the respirator was
a life-changer,
and it was a motivating factor
to just move forward.
But in regards to my injury,
I did go through
a lot of the classical...
emotional stages:
denial, anger, depression,
all those things.
But I never
accepted this injury.
It's gonna happen.
I mean, I will walk again.
And everybody else,
they will find us
some kind of cure.
And it's--
I mean, it's not if, it's when.

Father was a regular presence
at son's side in Miami,
though Nick was
also still working
at US Tobacco's headquarters
in Connecticut,
albeit as a changed man.
It wasn't long after
Marc's accident
that you began to see
a change in Nick,
and he became slightly
softer around the edges.
People were less
afraid of him at work,
and he elicited sympathy from
a lot of people around him.
I think part of the compassion
that was new in Nick
was that Nick had no idea
how to cope with
a tragedy that was
this immense in his life,
that had been such
a golden life.
And I think he was
trying to decide,
as an intellectual,
how to deal with this.
It was that profound to him.
I think I changed
for the better.
When you have a focal point
of your life,
it changes dramatically.
Having, uh...
having... (sighs)
Can't do it. Sorry.
No sorrys.
You know, it's been
almost a year from the day
that I walked into a hospital
room in Johnson City, Tennessee.
When I looked at Marc...
all I could see was a young
boy struggling for his life.
Just how quickly
the Miami Project's
fundraising effort progressed
was most evident when
the organization held its first
Greatest Sports Legend
Dinner in New York City.
Howard Cosell:
I love Nick.
I love the No-Name Defense.
What happened
to his son was tragic,
and I will dedicate
all of my remaining years,
such as they may be,
to helping Nick and Marc
in whatever way I can.
The dinner, honoring iconic
athletes and sports figures,
became the Miami Project's
annual showcase event,
attracting luminaries
from all across
the public spectrum.
We have problems, all of
us think we got problems.
You see these guys,
and most people
would just give up.
But they don't give up,
and they inspire us all
to keep going, whatever happens.
When I think about us
in those early days,
raising money and getting
commitments from celebrities,
it was like being
on Wall Street.
At the end of the day,
it was ding, ding, ding!
And I used to put paper down
and just show him what
we'd gotten for this one
and this one.
He'd go, "You could've
gotten more from him.
That guy? That's all he gave?"
You couldn't help
be swept up
with all this because
it was his energy
and it was Nick's vortex,
and you either were
in or you were out.
And we were having--
Nobody said no to us.
It was the most
remarkable thing.

I was concentrating
so much on Marc,
and that helped
my demise at UST.
Nothing mattered
but the Miami Project.
Nothing mattered but Marc.
And I think
Lou Bantle recognized,
and it was painful
for a lot of us,
that Nick ultimately would
have to make a decision.
Was his life about Marc,
or was his life about
the tobacco industry?
We had just attained corporate--
record corporate earnings
and record sales.
So, I thought, you know...
I thought that my job
was secure, but, uh,
they voted me out.
It was very...
It was devastating for me.
His departure
from US Tobacco
at the end of 1989
did come
with one silver lining.
The company's insurance
would continue to cover
Marc's medical bills
for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, Nick was still
closely connected to football,
thanks to the television job
he'd now had for over a decade.
Hello, everybody.
Welcome to our 14th season
of Inside the NFL.
It promises...
And as the '90s began,
a new face joined
Nick and Len on the set:
recently retired
Cincinnati Bengals receiver
Cris Collinsworth.
And Chris, a little advice,
you might benefit
by listening
to the old pros,
particularly during
the picks segment.
My goodness!
Are you serious?
I've been watching
that picks segment
for the last couple
of years and...
do you guys even watch
football games anymore?
With the dartboard,
is that what you're doing now?
-It's really not very good.
-Rookie, you are gonna
make a bunch of mistakes
during the year,
and we old vets are
gonna pick up for you.
You have to know,
I was a Florida kid.
I grew up watching
Nick Buoniconti
play for the
Miami Dolphins,
and the greatest
team of all time,
and undefeated,
To work with him
was a really big deal
because I was a really big fan.
I had no idea he didn't
want me to work for him,
but, you know,
that's the way it works.
Nick's a tough guy.
Nick's a pit bull
with everybody.
I thought
he just didn't like me.
We'd sit in these meetings,
everybody'd write down what
they were supposed to say,
and then we would read them.
And so, every week,
I would write out something,
and I would read it,
and Nick goes,
"Oh, you can't say
that. You know,
"you're a former player.
Come on, it's gotta...
"it's gotta be tough.
This has gotta be edgy.
"That's what our show's about.
What are you doing?
You gotta write something."
So I go, okay, Nick.
Thanks for helping me.
And I'd change it, you know...
So then, I came in the next
week, and it was the same thing.
And it's like,
"Ah, you gotta do something!
The thing is, you know..."
So, about week five,
he comes in there again.
He goes, "Ah, you can't say--
You gotta say something tough
and edgy. Come on, you know..."
And I said, okay, I said,
"I'll change mine," I said.
"But nobody's gonna care
about that piece of shit
you just wrote over there."
And the minute it
came out of my mouth,
I'm thinking, all right,
I'm gonna have to use
my jab effectively.
Maybe, I'm a little longer
than he is, you know.
I'm gonna have to...
'Cause he's--
We're definitely fighting.
I'm thinking, well,
if I could just wrestle
him to the ground.
You know, I'm literally
thinking of how
I'm gonna fight
Nick Buoniconti.
And he stops,
and he kind of looks at me.
And we never really
had that issue again.
It was almost like
a defensive player,
you had to stand up
to it a little bit.
And from that moment on,
we were just kind of
partners out there.
Where is our
Italian Stallion?
I don't have any--
Lenny, you gotta
see this to be--
(hums "Gonna Fly Now")
Here he comes,
the Italian Sta--
Somebody call
the paramedics!
Get in here.
Get in here.
What's the matter with you?
Never again.
I could never run
those steps.
I'm not gonna do that again.
You couldn't
run them again.
Catch your breath because
I wanna talk about...
In a pre-Internet age,
Inside the NFL
was appointment viewing
for fans between games
every week.
And Len and Nick
remained at the center
of the show's cast
for 23 years.
Though when they were
replaced in 2002,
it wasn't on
Buoniconti's terms.
I didn't understand it
'cause I wanted to make
25 years, you know?
And, uh, it was, uh,
it was bittersweet, you know?
I understood that they
were going younger.
But, uh...
I still believe that I had
something to offer.
He was crushed and mad.
He was furious.
I think it took some people
some time to get him to realize,
you did some incredible
stuff for a long period.
So, he finally realized.
Probably forgave everybody.
When Len and Nick
left the show,
it was really
hard on everybody.
There was this great
magical chemistry
to the show, and...
I knew it would
never be the same.
It was always fun
and I loved everybody
that I got a chance
to work with on that show,
but it was never
the same as the original.
You know,
the original pairing...
it was something special.

If leaving HBO was
a disappointment,
it came on the heels of
one of the proudest moments
of Buoniconti's life in 2001,
when, after years
of being passed over,
pro football's ultimate honor
finally came calling.
Oh my God.
We were in Tampa
for the Superbowl, and, uh,
I found out that
I made the Hall of Fame,
and we cracked open
a bottle of champagne
and celebrated my induction.
I was ecstatic about,
about, uh...
about being inducted as part
of that No-Name Defense.
Shula was more
excited than I was
that I made the Hall of Fame.
I just was very, very happy.
I couldn't have
been more proud,
and, uh, I just said, you know,
it's finally happening.
He's getting the recognition
that he deserved.
There was something
almost appropriate about
Nick having to wait to
get in the Hall of Fame.
I can't even explain it.
You know, you're sort
of that underdog, undersized.
Came out of the AFL,
had to prove himself.
He always believed
he belonged in there.
I knew he belonged
in the Hall of Fame.
But you almost had to see him
play every single weekend
to appreciate what that
guy brought to the dance.

Dad, a few years ago,
you said, "Marc,
"if I ever get elected
to the Hall of Fame,
I want you to introduce me."
Well, here we are.
I would say that
I wrote that speech
probably over six months.
And I wrote it and rewrote it.
I probably changed it,
probably, days before...
my speech.
Because I just, I wanted
it to be right for him.
I wanted it to be
perfect for him. I mean,
how many opportunities
do you have
to introduce your father
into the Hall of Fame?
You only have one.
Dad, you never believed
the labels and limitations
others ascribed to you.
Instead, you faced
each challenge head-on
and made believers out of them.
You could hear a pin drop
when he started talking,
and you could see the emotion
between the father and the son.
You know, it was unbelievable.
I'm still emotional.
Just because of what, um,
they've done with
the Miami Project,
and what, you know,
how it changed
their lives so much.
-Who would've thought
that the son of
an Italian baker
from the South End of
Springfield, Massachusetts,
would go on to run
a Fortune 500 company.
Or that a guy with
a degree in Economics
would be helping to
make medical history.
Or that a 13th round pick
on the fledgling AFL
would today be inducted into
the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
I think the Hall of Fame
award was more than
just an award for his
football accomplishments.
I think it was a way
to honor my dad
for everything
that he's ever done.
Dad, you have always
been by my side
and have been more
of a father to me
than I could've ever imagined--
the best father
one could hope for.
Whatever it is
you got inside you,
we see it, we feel it,
and it gives each of us
a little more reason
to believe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
my hero,
my friend, my dad,
-Nick Buoniconti.
It's very emotional.

What he said blew me away.
I just treasure that day.
I'll always remember that day.
You know, I wear
this Superbowl ring,
which is the only
ring ever produced
that says the Miami Dolphins
were undefeated
and were perfect.
I would trade
this ring in,
and all my individual
if one thing could happen
in my lifetime.
My son Marc dreams
that he walks,
and as a father,
I would like nothing more
than to walk by his side.
Thank you so much.

Well, I'm feeling that, uh,
somehow I have not
fulfilled my dream
of seeing Marc walk again,
you know, and, uh,
that's pretty sad.

(projector whirring)
While Nick Buoniconti
would be wildly venerated
for his dedication as a father,
as a husband,
the story was different.
And in 1997,
he and Terry divorced
/after 35 years together.
(piano playing)
Though a few years afterwards,
he got a second
chance at marriage.
I had heard of Nick Buoniconti
long before I met him
because when I used to
come home from college,
my father was the biggest
Miami Dolphin fan ever.
So, I would sit and watch
every game with him,
and hear every
player on the team.

When I met Nick
and he introduced himself,
he was very... "I'm Nick."
And I said,
"Do you have a last name?"
And he said, "Yes. Buoniconti."
And of course, I went back
to 1972 with my dad.
But what impressed me the most,
even in that instant,
is that I remembered
reading about his
relationship with his son.
He made it quite
clear right away that
Marc was the number one
priority in his life,
and that his mission was
to cure paralysis, and...
Nick is very serious,
so I took that very seriously.
Meeting Lynn was
a new chapter in my life.
Lynn was loving
right from the beginning.
I saw that very,
very quickly in her,
that she was
a no-nonsense person
who, uh, whose energy level
was off the charts.
And she used to play
the piano every Sunday
for... for me.
And I used to sit there
and read the New York Times
while she played the piano.
Nick had retired
from corporate life,
but he was still on
corporate boards,
and he was still fundraising.
In our downtime,
we skied together,
we played golf together,
We traveled, and we just...
thought that would
go on forever.
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, uh,
my brain won't let me.

I think the first
signs were about 2013,
when I started noticing
differences in Nick:
his impatience,
his attention span,
his driving.
I became more highly aware
of something wasn't right.
After I saw those signs,
I was more
on high alert for things.
And he would come home
from the golf course and he'd
be covered in bandages.
And I would ask
him what happened.
And he would say,
"Oh, I fell over a wall.
The wall-- I don't think
the wall was there before."
He wouldn't remember
a conversation.
He wouldn't remember
where he was that morning.
Wouldn't remember a golf shot.
Wouldn't remember
who he played golf
with that day.
And so, the Buonicontis
traveled across the country,
searching for answers
over the next four years.
Specialists would tell them
that Nick was suffering
from dementia
and shrinkage on
the right side of his brain.
But seeking more clarity,
in the fall of 2017,
they met with
Dr. Ann McKee.
When Nick and Lynn came
to see me in Boston,
they had a lot of
questions about
what was going on
with Nick.
And they'd been
to a lot of
different centers
and gotten
different opinions,
and I think they were fairly
confused at that point about
what the possibilities were.
They'd seen me on television.
It was during
a congressional hearing,
where we were talking about
what we've accomplished
over the last decade in CTE.
And, uh, that really
piqued their interest,
and they wanted
to come talk to me,
and see if we thought
that CTE was something
that was going on in Nick.

CTE, the irreversible
degenerative disease
caused by repetitive
brain trauma.
CTE cannot be diagnosed
definitively until after death,
but during life,
you can suspect CTE.
Nick had a long-playing
career in football.
He had many, many
years of exposure
to those repetitive head hits,
and over time, decades of play,
they can have a very
serious effect on the brain.
And for me,
the way Nick appeared,
his history, his MRI,
everything was
consistent with CTE.
You're hoping
that it's something
that isn't gonna
continue to get worse.
But that's not the news
we had for them.
But just as he'd done
decades earlier,
Buoniconti refused to simply
accept the devastating news
without a fight.

He joined forces
with Boston University
and the Concussion
Legacy Foundation,
to start the Nick and Lynn
Buoniconti CTE Research Fund,
and announced
that upon his death,
he would donate
his brain for study.
I would like to thank
my wife Lynn
for being...
supportive of me.
This is not easy.
It's difficult.
I'm not half the man
I used to be.
It didn't surprise me
that Nick wanted to be vocal
about trying to help others
because that's what
he's done his whole life.
That's just who Nick is.
It was an easy decision.
Whatever they do to my brain,
I hope it helps
the players in the future.
I'm positive that
football caused this,
but I'm not mad at the game.
I'm mad at the owners.
I... think what we did,
we paved the way for...
for the NFL being
what it is today.
In other words, uh...
we paved the way for them,
and they're reaping
all the benefits.
I'm not, uh,
I'm not, uh, coherent.

If he points his anger
at the leagues' owners
for not giving more funds
to help ailing retired players,
it's still another complication
in the long relationship
between the man, who got
so much from football,
and the game,
that in the years since,
has seemed to
take so much away.
It would've been
a totally different life
without football.
Without football,
I probably would've
joined my father in
the bakery business.
Football opened up
every door I could imagine.
It helped me go to law school.
It helped me go to
Notre Dame. And it,
it helped me in
the corporate life, too.
I loved it, you know.
I always loved it.
Still do.
But, you know, um,
I'm paying the price.
When we were growing up,
football gave everything to us.
And then,
look what it did to me.
And now, look what
it's doing to him.
I mean, do you love the game?
Do you hate the game?
Do you love it and hate it?

-Here comes Nicky.
-Man 1: There he goes.
-Man 2: Hey, Nick.
Hi, let's go!
How much money
you got on you?
(indistinct chattering)
So, we're still looking
at all the bags.
-Hey, kiddo.
-How you doing, Gene?
-That was the funniest
times of all times.
-Good. Good seeing you.
-Okay, you ready to stand?
We're putting for
big money today.
-Pull him up.
Give you a hand here.
You can't putt
unless it's for money.
-I can't putt anyway.
-We never heard those words.
-Watch, it's gonna go right in.
A little short.
One more try.
Let's go.
People can see that I'm not
the person I used to be.
-There it is!
I take, probably,
20 pills a day, and, uh,
that's not an exaggeration.
I have a caregiver
24 hours a day.
And it's difficult when you have
all your freedoms
stripped from you.
I think Marc is amazing
that he's able to put up with
being paralyzed so many years.
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 gonna
take me, you know?
We've never spoken about
how much time he has.
'Cause I think we're
both living the new norm
every week,
and just I'm still trying to
cram as much of our old life
as I can into every moment
that we have.
I can't think about not being
without him because even...
even the way it is now,
he's still here, you know.
And, um, he might
not be the same,
but we've been
together for so long.
When you're with
someone for so long,
and you love them so much,
it's hard to think
about without.


Death is final.
So, you hang onto,
you hang on with
your fingernails
to every last minute,
and make every minute count.

For more than
three decades now,
the moments that have been
among the most significant
have come at scenes
like these,
at the still thriving annual
Greatest Sports
Legends Dinners.
(indistinct chatter)
You know Brian Boitano.
Hi, Brian Boitano.
How are you?
The dinners have anchored
Buoniconti's extraordinary
success as a fundraiser,
helping to raise more than
half a billion dollars,
and making the Miami Project
the most comprehensive
spinal cord research
facility in the world.
Bob Costas:
Ladies and gentlemen,
it's now my honor to introduce
the inspiration for
the Miami Project,
and the Buoniconti Fund,
Marc Buoniconti.
Lives are changed
in a split second.
Families are devastated,
and loved ones are
crying out for help.
The Miami Project
brings real hope
to countless
individuals and families
who depend on us
to find a cure.
This project has changed
the way we practice medicine.
People come into our
hospital every week
who would've been paralyzed,
and are walking now
because of hypothermia,
because of some of
the pharmaceutical protocols,
clinical trials we're doing.
Women with spinal cord injury
and men with spinal cord injury
are having their own babies
because of the basic
science research done here.
Is everybody cured? No.
Have we accomplished
our final goal? No.
But we're really at a point
where we are pushing...
pushing that line hard,
every day.

The world's changed a lot,
and in no small part,
due to the Buonicontis,
and their relentless pursuit
for all the things that
are important to people
who are still sitting
in those wheelchairs.
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.
And I'm not sure life offers
a whole lot more than that.
You know? You get your time
and you go fistfight
your way through it,
and at the end of the day,
you say, that was me.
Put a stake in the ground.
"That was me."
And that's Nick Buoniconti.
I view his life as a triumph
and not as a tragedy.
In spite of it all,
and the way that...
the way this seems to be
coming to an end for him,
uh, is sad.
He's done so many things.
He's had a remarkable life.
He's changed things, you know?
He's changed things.
I think he changed people's
perceptions about athletes.
I think he, uh,
showed that you can--
a football player can go
to law school,
and come out
and eventually run
a major corporation.
And he showed that he can
be on a television show
for 23 years.
And that, when called
upon, he was...
he rose to the occasion to raise
hundreds of millions of dollars
to try and help his son
and other people that
suffer from paralysis.
I don't think that anybody
in sports has ever
raised the kind of money
that Nick has raised
for the Miami Project.

How you doing, buddy?
Nick III:
There he is.
How's everything?
-Nick III: I don't think
he can get there.
I can't get there.
-Marc: Hey, Dad.
-How you doing?
-Hey, brother.
You look, you look good.
I do?
-Marc: Yeah!
-That's what I said.
I said he looked...
-I mean, they...
They talked about you
having one in the grave,
but I think you look good.

This is what a good morning
looks like for
Nick Buoniconti these days.
(indistinct chatter)
Even as he and everyone
around him
knows more decline
is inevitable.

For now, though, there's
still the chance to reflect,
and look back himself
with a familiar pride
on the many lives he's led.
I consider myself
a renaissance man
because I kept
reinventing myself.
America has always stood
for being able to accomplish
great things.
And I accomplished more than
my fair share of great things.
He calls himself
a renaissance man?
You can take this
'cause I want him to see this.
That's horse shit. (laughs)
You're no renaissance man.
He's a street fighter from
Springfield, Massachusetts.
And that's what got
him where he was.
Well, it looks like...
the final chapter
in my professional life
has been written.
It was a challenge.
I took the challenge head-on.
It was a mountain,
and I climbed the mountain.

But as I close that book
on my professional career,
as my son Marc says,
the biggest challenge
and the highest mountain
is yet to be climbed.
Nick III:
I think, in reality,
we all know
Marc might not get
out of the wheelchair.
We just want the next guy
to be able to get out
of his wheelchair.
I mean, I think my brother's--
that ship has probably sailed,
but there's still so much
possibility of helping people.
I'm sure my dad's
upset that he...
he's not gonna follow it
all the way through.
Maybe it will.
That next kid will
walk someday and...
(sniffles, sighs)
Told you I'd cry.
...he-- they'll thank
number 85.
It's been a long time.
He's been working hard at it.

I should've been
dead years ago.
It's only because of my
father that I'm here today.
It's only because of my father
that I'm able to live
the life that I do.
It's only because of my father
that I'm sitting here today,
having a life.
Maybe the one
I didn't wanna choose,
but a life worth living.

I'll never quit on the fact
that I promised Marc
that I would find
a cure for paralysis.
I don't know the word quit.
My legacy will not
be on the field.
It'll be off the field.
And, uh,
if and when I find
a cure for paralysis,
the chapter will be closed.
Be just one more chapter.
(footsteps approach)
("Gonna Build
a Mountain" playing)
Gonna build a mountain
From a little hill
Gonna build me a mountain
Least, I hope I will
Gonna build a mountain
Gonna build it high
I don't know how
I'm gonna do it
-I only know I'm gonna try
-Yeah, yeah
-Gonna build me a daydream
-Yeah, yeah
-From a little hope
-Yeah, yeah
-Gonna push that daydream
-Yeah, yeah
-Up the mountain slope
-Yeah, yeah
-Gonna build a daydream
-Yeah, yeah
-Gonna see it through
-Yeah, yeah
Gonna build a mountain
and a daydream
Gonna make them
both come true
-Yeah, yeah
-Gonna build a heaven
From a little hell
Gonna build me a heaven
And I know darn well
If I build my mountain
With a lot of care
And take my daydream
up the mountain
Then the heaven
will be waiting there
When I build that heaven
-As I will someday
-Yeah, yeah
And the Lord sends Gabriel
-To take me away
-Yeah, yeah
What a fine young son
-To take my place
-Yeah, yeah
I will leave a son
in my heaven on Earth
With the good Lord's grace
With a fine young son
To take my place
I'll leave
A son in my heaven on Earth
-With the good Lord's grace
Gonna build me a mountain
Yeah, yeah!