By Joan Murray

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami Dolphins legend Nick Buoniconti has passed away.

A statement posted on the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis website reads, “Today, with a heavy heart and profound sorrow, my family and the entire Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and Buoniconti Fund community mourn the loss of a man who was truly larger than life, my father, NFL Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti.”

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Buoniconti died in Bridgehampton, New York. A cause of death was not immediately given. He was 78.

The hall of fame linebacker, who played on the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins team that won the Super Bowl, suffered from the effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) for years.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Nick Buoniconti,” the Miami Dolphins posted on Twitter.

Buoniconti, who supported research of the devastating concussions suffered by many football players due to repeated hits to the head, donated his brain to the C.T.E. Center of Boston University; where scientists study the long-term effects of this degenerative disease linked to head trauma.

In a statement released Friday, Buoniconti’s son Marc said, in part, “True to his nature, he continues to try and help others even while he wages his own battle. Just as he has done for me for more than 32 years as we’ve searched for a cure for paralysis, we will all stand beside him as he searches for answers.”

After his playing days, Buoniconti focused his drive and determination into several diverse careers.

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For twenty-three seasons he was co-host of the longest running, critically acclaimed, weekly television sports show “Inside the NFL” on the HBO cable network.

“Nick Buoniconti lived an extraordinary life. He accomplished virtually everything he set his sights on in life. He was a trailblazer. Pairing him with Len Dawson on INSIDE THE NFL for 23 years is an unforgettable part of football television history. And then having the blessing of Nick and his wife, Lynn, to chronicle his lifelong journey and produce a documentary earlier this year is an important part of our heritage at HBO Sports. It was vintage Nick Buoniconti : honest, raw and to the point. Everybody at HBO Sports is grateful to have had Nick as a friend, colleague and part of our family. We send our condolences to the Buoniconti family.”
Rick Bernstein, executive producer, HBO Sports

Over the years he has held the position of President and Chief Operating Officer of UST, a Fortune 500 company, served on the UST Board of Directors and was Chief Operating Officer and Vice Chairman of Columbia Laboratories, an AMEX listed pharmaceutical research and development company.

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He also served as an outside director for The Sports Authority, American Bankers Insurance Company, Nine West Group, Inc. and is a former member of the Board of Governors of the United Service Organization (USO), to name a few.

When his son Marc suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in 1985, he focused most of his attention on raising awareness of, and funds for, spinal cord injury research.

He helped found and served as a national spokesman and fundraiser for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. He and his family also founded The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis to help The Miami Project achieve its national and international goal of finding a cure for spinal cord injuries. To that end, through the direct involvement of the Buoniconti’s, more than $500 million has been raised in support of The Miami Project’s research programs.

In that time, The Miami Project, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has grown to become internationally recognized as one of the leading research centers for spinal cord and brain injuries in the world.

Marc Buoniconti is the president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

“Nick was a man of honor, intelligence and humanity, who possessed a profound intensity which he brought to every aspect of his life. If men are judged by what they leave behind, then Nick’s statue in the Football Hall of Fame pales in comparison with his accomplishments off the field. It is well-documented that Nick was not just a retired football player; he became a lawyer, sports agent and executive and excelled at them all. For many others, however, he will be forever remembered as the driving force behind The Miami Project and The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis. With the same intensity he used to sack opposing quarterbacks and by the sheer force of his will, he helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for spinal cord injury research. For those of us touched by his greatest mission, he will live on forever,” said John P. Fox, Executive Director, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, in a statement.

Nick Buoniconti played for the Dolphins from 1969 to 1974, with a stint in 1976.

He was named to the NFL Pro Bowl team in 1972 and 1973 and is a two-time Super Bowl champion with the team as well. His former coach, fellow Hall of Famer Don Shula, released a statement on Buoniconti’s death.

“I am sad to hear of Nick’s passing. Nick was special to me in every way. He was someone I greatly admired. His love for his wife, Lynn, his children, grandchildren, friends, teammates, family and the community was evident. His groundbreaking work with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has made a huge difference in the lives of so many people. I am thankful to have had Nick in my life. I will miss him.”

Buoniconti has the third-most interceptions by a linebacker in NFL history with 32.

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Number 85 was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001.