MIAMI (CBSMiami) – By modern standards, Nick Buoniconti was too small to play in the NFL.

But a linebacker who was drafted in the 13th round ended up being traded to the Dolphins and became the heart and soul of its famed ‘No Named Defense’.

“Maybe they were the no name defense but they were probably the no mistake defense [as well] and Nick was kind of the leader of that,” said former Dolphins linebacker Kim Bokamper. “He wouldn’t put up with guys that didn’t know what their job was, didn’t know where they were supposed to line up or didn’t play with the maximum effort. He kind of spearheaded that defense and really gave them the image of what they were but more importantly, gave them the heart that he brought to the table each and every week.”’

Buoniconti’s smarts made him a five time all pro who played in three straight Super Bowls.

The crowning achievement was the famous 1972 Dolphins team that recorded the NFL’s only perfect season with a 17-0 record.

Sadly, Buoniconti died in Bridgehampton, New York, his family announced Wednesday.

“The main thing I always remember about Nick is that we were both traded to the Dolphins the same year (1969) and were bonded ever since then. He came from Boston and I was with San Diego,” said former Dolphins guard and Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Little. “We had a great relationship and always kidded each other. We were both captains of the 1972 team and he would always call the coin toss and got it right every time. One time I asked to do it and I got it wrong. He never let me forget that! He was a great guy and a great person. He was always a fierce competitor. It’s really a sad day for me.”

At Dolphins headquarters in Davie, the team’s flag flew at half-staff in Buoniconti’s memory.

WATCH: Former Dolphins Linebacker Kim Bokamper Discusses Memories Of Teammate Nick Buoniconti

 

Longtime fans remembered a Hall of Fame player and person.

“He was a heck of a guy and [has] a heck of a family. I’m sure Don Shula’s heart is real heavy today,” said one fan at the Dolphins facility Wednesday.

Buoniconti’s most recent football headlines were gut wrenching as he opened up about his deteriorating mental health.

He vowed to donate his brain to CTE research in order to help study the effects football may have had on his condition.

One of Buoniconti’s final public appearances came four years ago when he was recognized as one of the Dolphins 50 Greatest Players. As always, he was a gracious honoree.

“It’s a real sad day for the Dolphins and our alumni,” said former Dolphins receiver Nat Moore. “We lost one of our greats with the passing of Nick Buoniconti. He was a great football player, a true Hall of Famer, but he was much more than that. He was a lawyer and a successful business leader. Most of all he was a family man. The work he did with the Miami Project following the tragic accident with Marc will never be matched. My thoughts are with his wife, Lynn, and children, Marc, Nick and Gina. He will be missed and always in our hearts.”

Jim Berry

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