Buoniconti not living in the past

Email|Print| Text size + By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / December 29, 2007

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - The last thing Nick Buoniconti wants to do is sit down and talk about the unbeaten Patriots.

"I've turned down everybody because it's the same old questions," says the captain of the "No Name Defense" of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. "Are you rooting against the Patriots to win? Do you guys really celebrate with glasses of champagne when the other team loses? Are you a bunch of grumpy old men waiting for the Patriots to lose?"

Buoniconti shakes his head slowly. "Listening to that nonsense gets a little old, so I thought the best way to avoid it is to just not do it. So I don't do it. It's nonsensical. So the answer to all three is no."

No one is more qualified to offer a comparison of the Patriots and Dolphins than Buoniconti, the only player in each teams' Hall of Fame. The 14-year middle linebacker was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, and he led the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowls and back-to-back championships.

So, where's he watching tonight's game?

"I'm not," he insists.

In fact, he's leaving the country - forsaking the Patriots' attempt to join his Dolphins in NFL history for the soft breezes of Anguilla, in the British West Indies.

"I'll be having fun," he says. "I'm sure I won't be watching the game."

It's understandable Buoniconti may not bear to watch; he doesn't hold out much hope for a Giants upset.

"I don't think the Giants have anything to play for," he says. "The Giants have already clinched as much as they are going to clinch. I'm not even sure they'll play the regulars. What's the purpose? Now, the Patriots are going to play the regulars and I don't blame them. They're going to tie an incredible team record. It's the most revered record in the history of team sports. They are going to pour it on as much as they can in the first half.

"Can the Patriots be beaten? Absolutely. Some team has to play superhuman football. Limit your turnovers and take the bomb away from Randy Moss and you have a chance to win the football game. No one's been able to do that. It's easier said than done."

Buoniconti dismisses Spygate, in which the Patriots got caught and fined for videotaping the Jets' signals.

"I don't think it makes any difference," he says. "It would not have made any difference in that game."

He says it reminds him of Richard Nixon and Watergate. "[Nixon] won 49 states out of 50, so why break into Watergate? And the great Belichick - I have so much respect for Bill - but I don't understand why having such a great team, anyone would even expose themselves like that. It doesn't make any sense. Does it tarnish his record? Not with me it doesn't. He's going to go down as one of the top-five coaches in the history of the game."

Buoniconti also defended his friend and former coach, Don Shula, who alluded to an asterisk being placed for the Patriots for cheating if they were to finish undefeated.

"You're dealing with a highly ethical moral human being who just believes that if you play the game, you play it right. Don's not a mean-spirited guy. He probably thought about it and said, 'Hey, what am I doing?' "

Admiring their style

Football isn't the most important thing on Buoniconti's mind. His son Marc was paralyzed playing college football in 1985, and Buoniconti has devoted his life to finding a cure for spinal cord paralysis and raising millions for the Miami Project he cofounded. When he's not doing that he can be found on the golf course.

Did he watch his former team play last week in Foxborough? "I didn't even watch the game," he says. "I walked my dog in Coconut Grove. Then I came here and hit some golf balls. When I got home the game was 28-7."

Buoniconti once said "every play is life and death." He sees some of that in the Patriots.

"I like their attitude," he says. "Tedy's [Bruschi] a terrific player, but look around him. That defensive line is a pretty good defensive line. That's why Junior Seau can continue to play. You got a defensive line like that coming off the ball, and a secondary with Asante Samuel and Rodney Harrison, put those linebackers out there and you've got a pretty good team."

Pretty good?

"They can call this team the greatest team in the history of the world and they may not be wrong," Buoniconti says. "What they said about Joe Montana is going to be said tenfold about [Tom] Brady. Montana was a great quarterback, but understand that there's no one better on third down than Tom Brady. Never. Best third-down quarterback ever."

Buoniconti, who appeared on HBO's "Inside the NFL" for 23 years, insists going undefeated has always been the Patriots' goal.

"I think this was their goal, not to just get to the Super Bowl. Once they started playing they knew they were good enough to go undefeated. I really believe that. Everybody knew they were a great football team. They stole so many players," says Buoniconti, citing the lopsided acquisitions of Moss and Wes Welker.

But Buoniconti scoffs at charges that the 1972 Dolphins played a weak schedule.

"They look at the schedule and say, 'They're lucky.' We got a lot of close calls. It was no different than the Patriots against the Ravens and the Eagles. You always have a lot of close games. You've got to have a little luck along with greatness."

He sips some ice water and continues. "I guess we were better than pretty good because we did it without our starting quarterback." Bob Griese broke his leg in Week 5, but Earl Morrall stepped up brilliantly to take his place.

"I don't know many teams that could do that," says Buoniconti. "Would the Patriots have gone defeated if Brady was injured?

"All I know is whatever they accomplish is not going to detract from what we accomplished. We accomplished something special. They accomplished something special. I don't have anything against the Patriots. I like Bob Kraft. I think he's a real good owner."

Burned by toast stories

Now, about those champagne party stories . . .

Buoniconti points past some palm trees to some houses lining Riviera Country Club.

"Dick Anderson [Pro Bowl defensive back] lives right over there," he says. "I lived five houses from him on the street right there."

Anderson called him. "There was some team that was 10-0 and lost. Dick said, 'Our record still stands, let's go have a glass of champagne.' It wasn't, 'Aren't you glad they lost?' "

There was one other time, Buoniconti remembered. "We were at an event, a Jack Nicklaus tournament for the Miami Project. At the time it was Griese, myself, [Paul] Warfield, Anderson, and Shula. Kansas City, I think, lost. So Jack says, 'Break out the champagne.'

"But are we sitting around waiting for the team to lose with a bottle of champagne on ice? I don't think so. I think I have a few more important things to do than sit around. What people are doing - and it comes from some national broadcasters - is to mock everything.

"The whole thing is ludicrous. It's negative, it's destructive, it's disrespectful, and it's meaningless. So what if we have a glass of champagne? If I want to have a glass of champagne, I'll have a glass of champagne."

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