NEW YORK — For 32 years, Marc Buoniconti has been using a wheelchair. Through those decades, his father, Nick, has been his companion and, the son says, his “savior.”
Now it is Nick who needs Marc’s inspiration.
Nick, a Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker, is suffering from cognitive issues. Marc, paralyzed in 1985 during a college football game, understands that this is a time for him to pay back his dad.
Nick Buoniconti has been a guiding force for the Buoniconti Fund and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The family has raised nearly a half-billion dollars for the Miami Project, of which Marc is president.
On Monday night, Marc Buoniconti will host the 32nd annual Great Sports Legends Dinner to honor the Miami Project, part of the Miami Miller School of Medicine. And to honor his father.
“Even though we know what our final goal will be of curing paralysis,” Marc Buoniconti told The Associated Press, “we know we are only as good as the people surrounding us. And I got to tell you we are a great organization because we got some of the best supporters in the world and they believe in what we are doing.
“And really it is a tribute to my father. This event this year is going to honor my dad and he deserves it. He is my hero. He gave a lot of his life to help me, where he could have been basking in the glory of his career not only as a football player, but as a sportscaster; as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company; an attorney. All of this after an NFL Hall of Fame career.
“He could have been sitting on the beach sipping champagne for the rest of his life, but what did he do? He went around and gave the rest of his life to help his son.
“I don’t see any other greatest accomplishment or the greatest thing that you can do for your son other than that. As I have always said, he is my biggest hero, and at the end of the day I just hope in his eyes that he sees that I deserve that — and over time I hope that at least I make him proud.”
Marc Buoniconti has written a book titled “Undefeated: From Tragedy To Triumph.” It’s an autobiography depicting the struggles and the victories of his life, but also a tribute to Nick.
When Marc went down with his injury while playing for The Citadel, Nick promised to dedicate himself to not only helping his son survive and progress, but to seeking a cure to paralysis. For more than 30 years, they have done so together.
Nick’s health problems also have Marc looking into research for head trauma and brain disease. Marc first learned of the issues plaguing former NFL players from Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, and he’s seen the conversation expand since the movie “Concussion” and the deaths of Junior Seau and others who later were diagnosed with the brain disease CTE.
“It’s not easy for my father and it is not easy for any of the former players,” Marc says. “And then to see my father when he came forward with his announcement that he was going through this, my dad’s whole point was to just bring attention to the guys who don’t have a voice. And that is what it is always about for my father. It is not about Nick Buoniconti, he just wants to make sure that all the guys that aren’t getting the attention, aren’t getting the resources that they need and deserve, are being heard loud and clear.
“My dad has been struggling, but my dad is a fighter, always has and always will be, and we are facing it as a family day to day. And don’t give up on my father and don’t count him out. He is a strong guy, and as a family we are going to work and support him. And the Miami Project is moving on and forward with him and continuing on as we would always do. We are a strong organization and my father is still our patriarch and always will be. He is our leader and he is our mentor, and together we are not going to quit.
“As he has made that promise to me every year since that first day I was injured on the football field, where he was by my bedside and told me … he would never stop until he would help me get back on my feet again. And we renew that promise every year and we continue to do that. And as a family and an organization we are not going to quit until we get everybody out of wheelchairs once and for all.”