Like his legendary Miami Dolphins father Nick, Marc Buoniconti has been on a Wheaties box and the front page of many newspapers, but yesterday he separated himself from dad when he made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
"It's surreal. When I saw that cover of that SI, I was like really blown away," Buoniconti said. "Any athlete wants to see themselves in Sports Illustrated, not to mention on that cover."
If Buoniconti is blown away, it's only because he's 24 years removed from his last day on the football field, when his promising career was cut short in the blink of an eye.
Just 19 years old in 1985, Buoniconti was on his way to following in his famous father's footsteps, playing linebacker at the Citadel with pro football potential. But one freak accident, one hard hit, and Buoniconti was paralyzed from the neck down, forced into a wheelchair.
"It was a tackle like I had done hundreds of times in the past and nothing seemed different, except I fell to the turf and I was paralyzed," Buoniconti said.
Rather than close himself off to the world, Buoniconti decided to help others with his condition. He went to work for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Through his efforts, the project has raised $300 million for research, and Buoniconti has given hope to thousands who have suffered spinal cord injuries.
"To be able to see hope in someone's eye, someone that you've been able to change or be able to effect, it becomes contagious and you want more of it, that's what drives me everyday," he said.
So now, at 42, Buoniconti finds himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and everything is nearly perfect.
"One thing we gotta change, see that chair, we gotta get rid of that chair," he said. "That's gonna happen one day soon."