The Buonicontis Football (copy)

Marc Buoniconti, who was paralyzed from the neck down during a Citadel football game in 1985, and his father Nick watch The Citadel play on Sept. 30, 2006, at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Marc's jersey was retired at halftime. 

Pro Football Hall of Fame middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti has died at the age of 78. He dedicated his later years to caring for his son, Marc, who was paralyzed while playing football for The Citadel in 1985.

Nick Buoniconti died Tuesday in Bridgehampton, New York, a family spokesman said.

In recent years, Nick struggled with symptoms of CTE, a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. He had recently battled pneumonia, Dolphins senior vice president Nat Moore said.

Buoniconti's son, Marc, was paralyzed from the shoulders down while making a tackle for The Citadel during a 1985 game at East Tennessee State. Father and son worked to raise more than a half-billion dollars for paralysis research through the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

"When Marc was injured, it was a travesty for our family," Nick told The Post and Courier in 2006, when Marc had his Bulldog jersey retired and was presented with an honorary Citadel ring.

"It was such a devastating injury. You watch your son go from a 19-year-old, very active, very virile man and all of a sudden he's helpless and needs everybody to do everything for him. It was a very tough time."

Marc Buoniconti said his father was his biggest hero.

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"He could have been sitting on the beach sipping champagne for the rest of his life," the younger Buoniconti said in 2017. "But what did he do? He went around and gave the rest of his life to help his son."

The Miami Project became the world's largest spinal cord injury research center.

"Marc, the Miami Project Team and I are committed to carry Nick's banner and legacy forward to the goal line," project chairman Dr. Barth Green said.

An undersized overachiever who helped lead the Miami Dolphins to the NFL's only perfect season, the 5-11, 220-pound Buoniconti was bypassed in the NFL draft but went on to a 15-year career.

He was captain of the Dolphins' back-to-back Super Bowl champions, including the 1972 team that finished 17-0.

Following retirement, Buoniconti worked as an attorney, a broadcaster, as president of U.S. Tobacco and as an agent to such athletes as Bucky Dent and Andre Dawson. For 23 seasons he was co-host of the weekly sports show "Inside the NFL" on the HBO cable network.

"He lived a life of honor and nobility, and his legacy will live forever through his Bronzed Bust in Canton, Ohio," said Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker.

Buoniconti was chosen for the all-time AFL team in 1970, and for the NFL Pro Bowl in 1972 and 1973.

A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Buoniconti played guard on offense and linebacker on defense for Notre Dame. He was small for a pro linebacker, but after being taken in the 13th round by the Boston Patriots of the upstart AFL, he played for them from 1962 to 1968.

He made the AFL All-Star Game six times and had 24 career interceptions for the Patriots, including three in a single game in 1968.

Buoniconti played for the Dolphins from 1969 to 1974 and in 1976. He was the leader of Miami's famed "No-Name Defense" and in 1973 he set a team record with 162 tackles. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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