Herman Jacobs comes anytime Marc Buoniconti calls. He even shows up when other people call on Buoniconti’s behalf.
That’s why 32 years to the day that the two men tangled on a football field — the day that Jacobs stood up and Buoniconti learned he would be a quadriplegic — Jacobs surprised his “great friend” in his high school cafeteria.
Jacobs took the podium and told the crowd of Christopher Columbus High School alumni that Buoniconti was a man who “meant so much to me, who helped me, who inspired me and so many others.”
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Buoniconti, son of Miami Dolphins legend Nick Buoniconti, grinned ear-to-ear at his close friend and one-time roommate. He then introduced his new book, “Undefeated: From Tragedy To Triumph.”
Jacobs drove from Tampa to have Buoniconti sign it in person.
The two men struck up a friendship years after Buoniconti tackled Jacobs during a college football game, leaving Buoniconti paralyzed from the neck down when he was 19. Buoniconti encouraged Jacobs to pursue his culinary dreams, helping him to get a scholarship to Johnson & Wales University.
Prior to then, Jacobs said he was deeply depressed and turned to alcohol and drugs. Now he’s managing a Tampa restaurant and happily married.
“Everything that Marc does I want to be a part of and support him,” Jacobs said. “All he has to do is call and I’ll be there.”
Buoniconti joked about his party days at “Christopher Cannabis High” — “sorry, Brother,” he apologized – and the “fog” of drugs he was in for the last two years. He talked about watching his arm bounce on the field in the tangle of bodies and realizing in that moment he was paralyzed.
He told them about how the phone call with the news “literally floored” his father, co-captain of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team in NFL history that went undefeated. He was so angry that his wife had to stop him from chucking his Super Bowl ring down the hospital hallway.
“The game of football that had given us to much had finally taken something, something important,” he said.
Since the accident, Buoniconti and his family co-founded with Dr. Barth Green The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami medical school. They’ve raised more than $450 million and pioneered several treatments, including lowering the body temperature to prevent further damage.
“I would never have done something like that if I hadn’t gone through the experiences I had,” he said. “The best feeling you’re ever going to have in your life is when you give back to others.”
“Even though I’ve been sitting in a chair 32 years to the day, I feel blessed.”