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In Memorium: Danny Villanueva 1937-2015

Danny Villanueva only played three seasons in Dallas, but in his own way the former placekicker was also a pioneer.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The headlines in the Los Angeles Times read "Danny Villanueva, Co-founder of Univision, Dies Ar 77", but Villanueva was more than just a media mogul in Hollywood. Five decades prior he became a Dallas Cowboy. The product of a Mexican-American family of migrant farm workers, Danny learned early the value of hard work. His efforts, both as a student and as an athlete, gave him an opportunity to rise above his humble beginnings by earning a scholarship to New Mexico State University, He played a key role as a member of NMSU's back-to-back Sun Bowl winning teams in the late 1950's. In 1960 he was signed by the Los Angeles Rams to serve as the team's punter and place kicker.

As a Ram, Danny became one of the first players of Hispanic descent to play in the National Football League. Villanueva was also one of the last straight on kickers in the NFL. His athletic background was in football, the American version, unlike many of his fellow Latin American placekickers who were originally soccer players. Danny set a Rams franchise record for kicking the highest punting average (45.5 yards). That record stood for an impressive 45 seasons before being broken in 2007.

Villanueva became a Dallas Cowboy for the 1965 season when he was traded for wide receiver Tommy McDonald. He had an immediate impact on the Dallas special teams, solidifying both the field goal and punt units on Tom Landry's squad. Danny set a franchise record by kicking 100 consecutive extra points without a miss and in 1966 he set a team record with 107 points in a single season. During that stretch of his career, Villanueva also set the club standard with 56 straight extra points in a season. His final game as a professional athlete was the infamous Ice Bowl classic that took place on Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Following his seven-year NFL career, Villanueva parlayed his athletic success into a role as a sportscaster with NBC's flagship west coast station, KNBC, in Los Angeles. He also became involved in station ownership as a partner in what was known as Spanish International Network, a group that pioneered Spanish language broadcasting in cities with large Hispanic populations. This group eventually became Univision, and its success made Danny a self-made multimillionaire.

Once he was out of the television business, Villanueva turned his efforts to philanthropy. Providing food, clothing, and toys for needy children in the Hispanic community was one of his favorite causes, as was supporting the institution that helped him get ahead in life. Danny contributed several million dollars to support scholarship funds at New Mexico State. He also returned to the business world. Villanueva became a founding member of the investment firms Bastion Capital and Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners. The latter firm was specifically set up to help small family owned businesses survive and prosper in a global economy.

Danny Villanueva was by any standards one of life's great success stories, and he is a credit to the game and franchises the first put him in a position to benefit from his hard work. In recent weeks Danny was felled by a stroke that would ultimately take the life of the former Dallas Cowboy. He leaves behind a wife and two sons to carry on his legacy.

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