by Mike Magers
Daniel Dario Villanueva was born in Tucumcari, Quay County, New Mexico on November 5, 1937. His parents were migrant farm workers. He credited his humble heritage with helping him to appreciate the value of hard work. He was a good student and athlete as an amateur. He graduated from Calexico High School and attended Reedly College in California before accepting a football scholarship at New Mexico State University. At NMSU, he was part of the 1959 and 1960 teams that were some of the most successful in school history, winning back to back Sun Bowl victories. His senior year, they were also undefeated.
Following his graduation from NMSU, Danny signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Rams where he would play five seasons before losing the starting job to Bruce Gossett. He was a double threat player, doing the punting and place kicking for his teams almost his entire career. While at the Rams, Danny set a club record for the highest punting average, 45.5 yards, a record that would stand for 45 seasons until 2007. He was one of the last straight ahead (non soccer-style) kickers. Following his tenure with the Rams, Danny was traded to the Dallas Cowboys, ironically in a deal that involved another New Mexico player, Tommy McDonald, where he would play another three seasons before retiring after the 1967 season. He set club records for the Cowboys, connecting on 100 consecutive PATs, scoring the most points in a season with 107 and making 56 consecutive PATs in a season with 56.
Villanueva was one of the first NFL players of Mexican American descent. The Rams management capitalized on this by piping bullfighting music though the PA system when he came onto the field. Though they seem rather ridiculous now, he was also given nicknames like “El Kickador” that referenced his heritage.
His career record in the NFL was 85 out of 160 field goals made, 236 out of 241 PATs made, 488 punts for a career average of 42.8 yards (and no blocks). His career was somewhat short compared to other kickers. He ranks 101st in career PATs made, 130th in career field goals made and 94th in career punting yardage. His 42.8 career yards per punt ranks 49th in the NFL.
Following his retirement, Danny became a broadcaster with KNBC, the first Latino broadcaster for the network. Newsman Tom Brokaw tells of having the privilege of choosing Villanueva to play on his team in a pickup touch football game between his newsroom and the LA Times. Brokaw was the quarterback and it wasn’t going so well for the team. Danny volunteered to “take some snaps” and true to form, he connected with former LA Laker Tommy Hawkins for a touchdown on his first play.
Villanueva later became part-owner of the Spanish International Network. In the 1980s, this entity evolved into Univision, the sale of which made him financially secure. Upon his retirement he devoted his energy to assisting needy individuals and families in the Hispanic community.
Villaneuva’s honors include being inducted into the National Hispanic Hall of Fame, the Management Hall of Fame of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Hispanic Sports Foundation for Education, Inc.’s National Hispanic Hall of Fame. He was 77 years old at the time of his death from complications of a stroke, but he left a legacy of hard work and generosity that will live on.