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Levy, Swann lead five others in Hall of Fame
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The class of 2001
This year's crop of NFL Hall of Famers sounds off on their elections.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
In the end, Buoniconti proved critics wrong
By Wayne Drehs
TAMPA, Fla. -- Nick Buoniconti admitted that he needed a babysitter to help him watch the announcement of the 2001 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees.
As the two watched as the names were read, they tightly held hands, gasping that this year would be the one for Buoniconti. It was.
"I had a great babysitter, I needed him, there's no question," said Buoniconti, who was a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins and Boston Patriots during his 14-year career. "This is truly unbelievable."
Buoniconti, whose been eligible for induction since 1981, was the old-timers nominee, a category reserved for candidates who completed 70-percent of their careers by 1976. It was the first time, however, that he was a finalist.
He becomes the eighth Dolphin and the third Patriot to be elected, and is the 15th linebacker to earn the honor.
The driving force of the Dolphins' famed "No Name Defense," Buoniconti, heavily criticized early in his career for lack of size, helped Miami to three straight Super Bowls. The Dolphins won two of them. In 1972, he anchored a defense that was the league's only to finish undefeated.
Drafted by the Patriots, Buoniconti played in six AFL All-Star games and two Pro Bowls. He is a member of the AFL's All-Time team.
"You know, I remember playing with the Patriots and sitting on milk carters, with sheets draped across the wall so we could watch game film," he said. "So for someone from a humbled background like me to get to the top of the mountain means a lot."
Buoniconti was Rudy before Rudy. From his college days at Notre Dame to his Pro Bowl days with the Dolphins, he was told that his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame was too small to play linebacker. Even his college coach at Notre Dame informed scouts for both the AFL and NFL that Buoniconti was too small for the pro game.
So, after graduating in 1962, he went undrafted by the NFL and wasn't selected in the AFL Draft until the 13th round by the Patriots.
But after being taken by the Patriots, a team he grew up loving in Springfield, Mass., he set out to make the most of his opportunity. During his seven seasons with the Patriots, Buoniconti tallied 24 interceptions, a mark that still ranks as the seventh in team history.
He was named to the AFL's All-Time team in 1970 and was a first-time All-AFL/AFC choice eight times.
But it's his days with the Dolphins for which he'll be remembered.
"One of the finest players I had the honor of coaching," Shula said. "I can't tell you how happy I am for him. And hopefully this will be the beginning of getting some more guys from that 'No Name Defense' recognized."
Buoniconti agreed, noting that former Cowboys coach Tom Landry's christening of that Dolphins unit as the "No Namers" wasn't quite so accurate.
"I love Tom Landry and I respect him so much, but when he called us 'no name,' that was a disservice," Buoniconti said. "That group had so much talent, including what I think are the best safeties to ever play the game. So I hope this is the beginning of something here."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
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