He was a small man.
Back in 1962, National Football Conference scouts considered Nick Buoniconti too small, at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, to play professional football. As a senior at Notre Dame in 1961, he led the team with 74 tackles and made the All-America second team, but it took a while before a professional team drafted him.
The Boston Patriots (well before they became infamous New England) drafted him to play for their team in the American Football League. (For those lucky people younger than me, this was in the halcyon days before the merger of the two leagues to form the modern NFL, in those days of antiquity before they even had a Super Bowl.)
Despite his small stature, Buoniconti quickly became one of the top defenders in the AFL. He received numerous honors and continued to do so after the NFC merged with the AFC to form the NFL.
However, he will be best remembered as a member of the 1972 Dolphins team, the only team to have a perfect season, winning all their regular- and post-season games.
Some detractors of that team would point out they played a cream-puff schedule. Only the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs posted winning records, both clubs going 8-6. The Fins beat them 23-13 and 20-10, respectively.
I agreed with the detractors, partially because I was a Colts fan at the age of 12. I hated Miami with the heat of a thousand suns after they beat the Colts and Johnny Unitas 21-0 in the 1971 AFC championship.
The Fins shut out one of the worst Colts teams ever by 23-0 and 16-0 scores. At least, the Colts didn’t get pulverized 52-0 like Buoniconti’s old team, the (now) New England Patriots.
Minnesota and Buffalo came closest to knocking off the Fins in the regular season. The Vikes lost 16-14 at home and Miami edged the Bills 24-23 at home.
The Dolphins reached the Super Bowl by beating the Cleveland Browns 20-14 at home (To my younger readers, yes, believe it or not, Cleveland actually fielded good teams in the Cretaceous.) and edging the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-17 on the road. Even though the Fish had a better regular-season record, 14-0 to 11-3, they had to play the AFC championship game in Three Rivers Stadium.
Miami almost pulled off a shutout in the 1973 Super Bowl. They led Washington 14-0 late in the fourth quarter. Washington blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt by Garo Yepremian. He grabbed it and attempted to pass, but it slipped out of his hands and cornerback Mike Bass returned it 49 yards for a score.
Sports Illustrated presented the best headline ever about that Super Bowl. Over a picture of human bulldozer Larry Czonka carrying the pigskin, the editors simply wrote “17-0-0.” Unbeaten, untied, untamed.
The Fish may have played a light schedule, but I maintain that any team that wins all of its games is pretty darned good. You see plenty of talented teams at all levels lose games they should win. The 1972 Dolphins deserve accolades for maintaining their concentration.
It is highly unlikely that any team will repeat that feat though New England came close a few years ago. The NFL owners are considering going to a 18-game season -- a totally unnecessary move motivated only by greed, in my opinion. Some savvy sports fans think the Players Union will block this. I hope they do as I don’t think the game has necessarily gotten better for adding two more games in the regular season.
At any rate, RIP, Mr. Buoniconti. You were one of the best.
The Linton-Stockton coaching staff will host a two-day youth football camp on Saturday, Aug. 10, and Saturday, Aug. 17, at the high school football field. The camps will run from 12:30-2:30 p.m. both days. Current Miner football players will help the coaches teach fundamentals and techniques.
Children in kindergarten through sixth grade can sign up for the camp during the league sign-ups on those mornings. The camp costs $10 per student.
The Linton Youth Football League will sign up players and issue equipment at the high school football field on these dates: 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Aug. 10; 6-8 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 14; and 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Aug. 17.
Children are eligible for the tackle league if they will be eight years before February 2020, or are 12 years old and under. The cost is $60 for one child, $85 for two, and $100 for three or more.
Kids ages 5-7 can sign up for flag football. The cost is $25 per child.
For further information, call Mark Gennicks at 812-512-2430.