Director Bentley Weiner on Why HBO Sports' 'The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti' Is Bigger Than a Football Story
Linebacker. Lawyer. Sports agent. Broadcaster. Executive. Philanthropist. Sure, there are individuals who wore one, two or even three of these hats. Nick Buoniconti has done them all, chronicled as part of a new HBO Sports documentary titled The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti. For director Bentley Weiner (The Shop, 24/7), the Miami Dolphins legend’s story is much bigger than football.
“That is one part of it,” she said. “This guy is a trailblazer. He did things I don’t know many, especially, the younger generation, would know, [like] a football player was in law school while he was playing football.
"I think his story is so unique. I personally can’t think of anyone who had that many chapters in their life and do so successfully. It is really about what the game of football has given and taken away from his life.”
*Strong language advisory.
The doc, narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, is book-ended by the 78-year-old remembering triumph and tragedy as the son of a baker who overachieved on the gridiron from Notre Dame to the AFL and eventually the NFL, where he was an anchor of the Dolphins' defense during their undefeated 1972 season. He also secured lucrative deals for clients as a sports agent and ruled the boardroom in the corporate sector as prominent face for U.S. Tobacco Company.
“Nick’s story is told through football where you get a sense of what an intense guy he is and how much he valued hard work and education. Ultimately, what he did on the football field helped him later in life,” Weiner said.
Unfortunately, with glory came heartbreak when his son Marc suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic after a tackle gone wrong playing for The Citadel. Since then, Buoniconti has worked tirelessly to fundraise and advocate research through co-founding the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Throughout the film, viewers also get a subtle sense of his own struggles neurologically, losing train of thought in some parts and by his speech. Although Bentley clarifies that the production is not a CTE documentary, with the main focus on his present condition, it’s a pivotal part that ends the film in a powerful way.
“There is a lot out there on the topic,” she said. “My hope is we are able to touch on this in a very unique way. Through the interview you can really see what he is going through.
"It’s not that he can’t remember stories, because he could. But things are very jumbled for him. He has a hard time sometimes articulating things. As the interview progresses you get a sense of that. It’s giving the viewer of what he is dealing with.”
It was important for the longtime director and producer to do Buoniconti’s life justice for a multitude of reasons. Among them was to honor his 23 years co-hosting Inside the NFL. Bentley worked on the program after the program added Bob Costas with Buoniconti and Len Dawson gone. She heard the stories, but then got to listen to them told from the mouth of the man himself almost two decades later.
“It was an intimate experience working with the family, especially his children and wife, Lynn. The story means so much to the family,” Bentley said. “I think it was important that we tell his story the right way.”
The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti, Tuesday, February 12, 10/9c, HBO, HBO GO & HBO NOW