New England Patriots: 30 greatest players in franchise history

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Nick Buoniconti, New England Patriots
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47. . LB. (1962-68). Nick Buoniconti. 6. player

  • Pro Football Hall of Fame (Class of 2001)
  • 5x AFL All-Star w/Patriots (1963-67)
  • 4x First-Team All-AFL w/Patriots (1964-67)
  • 3x Second-Team All-AFL (1962-63, 1968)
  • AFL All-Time Team
  • New England Patriots Hall of Fame

Like cornerback back Mike Haynes, linebacker Nick Buoniconti is a legend in two AFC franchise’s histories: the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. Some might remember Buoniconti as the hard-hitting linebacker for the undefeated 1972 team in Miami. However, he got the start to his hall of fame career in Boston with the Patriots.

Buoniconti joined the Patriots in 1962 as a 13th-round pick out of Notre Dame. The former 102nd overall selection in the 1962 AFL Draft would go on to be a star in his seven years with the Patriots. Boston’s best years in the AFL overlapped with Buoniconti’s time on the Patriots.

As a rookie in 1962, Buoniconti made his first of there Second-Team All-AFL squads. He followed that up with his first of six career AFL All-Star appearances in 1963, with the first five coming as a member of the Patriots. That would be the first, and only, season that the Patriots would win the AFC East division in 1963.

Every year that Buoniconti was a member of the Patriots, he either made an All-Star squad or an All-AFL team. No, it wasn’t just his punishing hits in the middle of the Patriots defense that set him apart. Buoniconti was incredibly sure-handed for a linebacker, as he recorded 24 of his 32 career interceptions in Patriots uniform.

As the AFL was winding down as a professional league in the eventual merger with the NFL, Buoniconti would be traded in the midst of his prime to the rival Miami Dolphins. Buoniconti continued to thrive in the middle of the Dolphins’ defense playing for head coach Don Shula. He made three more All-Star games and won two Super Bowls as a member of the Dolphins before retiring at the end of the 1976 NFL season at age 36.

Though a multi-time All-Star/Pro Bowler and several times all-league, it would take 25 years for Buoniconti to rightfully get his due as a great professional player. In 2001, Buoniconti would finally be selected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As both a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame and the Dolphins Honor Roll, what took so long?

Yes, those early Dolphins teams were stacked and the Patriots weren’t exactly good when he played for them. However, you can’t just overlook one of the greatest inside linebackers in the history of two AFC franchise’s like that.

Though football took a toll on his body and mind, as Buoniconti has said that he will donate his brain for CTE research after his death, the guy simply let it all out on the field. Buoniconti was a very instinctual player, perhaps ahead of his time as a ballhawk in the middle of the Patriots/Dolphins linebacking corps. No wonder he made the AFL All-Time Team.