Being the sports fan and history buff that I am, I’m always fascinated with the legend of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, still holding court as the NFL’s only undefeated Super Bowl champions. Dolphins icon Larry Csonka, whom we profiled in May 2014 (and as you can see above, featured on our cover), was a key member of three Miami Super Bowl winners and remains one of my favorite interviews during my tenure as ASJ’s editor. I remember he called me later than our scheduled time and his first comment was something along the lines of, “(Dolphins coach Don) Shula would have chewed me out for that.” But Csonka impressed me with his passion for the outdoors and Alaska, where he spends part of the year and starred in his own outdoors show, North to Alaska . And today Csonka reminded me why he’s such a standup guy. On his personal website, Csonka penned a column about two former teammates who are struggling with physical ailments that appear to be byproducts of head trauma from their long football careers.
Sports Illustrated’s fine writer S.L. Price wrote recent stories on linebacker Nick Buoniconti – like Csonka enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – and running back Jim Kiick. Please read, as they’re heartbreaking but important reminders of what a violent sport football is and how so many alums of the sport are suffering after their careers end (I teared up more than once reading how both men and their families are feeling helplessness, despair and anger on how Buoniconti and Kiick are deteroriating. Like so many others who have or are going through this, It makes me question my passion for football if those who played it have this price to pay years later, but that’s another story for another day.
Here’s some of what Csonka had to say about his teammates and football in general:
I’ve seen Jim the past few years at games. In fact, I was at a game last fall with both Jim and Mercury and had a great visit. I always ask how his health is and how he’s doing with the rest of his life. We might discuss typical health issues a lot of us experience at our age but he always assures me that he’s, basically, doing fine in all aspects. When Jim and Mercury Morris joined me in Alaska a few years ago to tape an episode for NFL Films, “A Football Life,” I noticed Jim was grumpier than usual and worrying more about small details. That wasn’t like the Jim Kiick I knew and played along side of. When I asked him about it, he joked and said he liked being a grumpy old man!
As the media has written, Jim is in an assisted living facility in South Florida. I’m glad he’s there. He needs part-time care. However, he’s not as bad off, at this point, as the media has depicted. At times he requires more attention than others but I know he and Mercury visit, go out for subs and hang out fairly often without any issues. Jim can still function in that capacity and enjoy life with his friends. What the future holds? We don’t know.
Jim has been diagnosed with dementia/early onset Alzheimer’s and suspected CTE. After a multitude of testing, Nick’s exact diagnosis is still ongoing. Each are dealing with different challenges.
Football was a much more dangerous sport when we played than it is today. Unfortunately, many of us from that era are now paying the price. I’ve been lucky so far and count my blessings daily. However, I realize I have some of the same risk factors as others who played on the gridiron. I continue to exercise, eat right and take supplements for good brain health. I have several aches and pains but I, basically, feel good and try to maintain a positive outlook on my future. …
… Jim and Nick are great friends of mine. Even though we only occasionally see each other, I think of them and my other teammates often. We shared a unique bond for an extraordinary period of time in our lives and still share in the historic success of our team. I hope better times come for both of them and I look forward to another visit this fall.
I’m feeling heartbroken for the Kiick and Buoniconti families and sending thoughts to them and to Larry and his partner, Audrey Bradshaw.