Aggies grieve loss of Hall of Famer Danny Villanueva

Courtesy of NMSU

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – New Mexico State football great and NM State benefactor Danny Villanueva, 77, passed away Thursday evening in California after suffering a stroke last weekend.

Villanueva played for the Aggies as a punter, placekicker and quarterback in 1958 and 1959 after transferring from Reedley (Calif.) Junior College. He helped lead the Aggies to an 8-3 season as a senior, including a 28-8 win over North Texas in the 1959 Sun Bowl.

He was inducted into the US Bank/NM State Hall of Fame in 1970.

Villanueva, an English major and sportswriter while at NM State, was a strong friend to his alma mater as well, giving the university millions of dollars over his lifetime. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university in 1999.

“New Mexico State football and the entire athletics department lost a true legend with the passing of Danny Villanueva,” said NM State Director of Athletics Mario Moccia. “Danny was a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest Aggie football players of all-time who played on the 1959 Sun Bowl team. A star in the NFL and a titan in the broadcast industry his passing makes today a very sad one for all of AggieNation. I personally feel very fortunate to have met and spent time with him and his friends who expressed bright days ahead for our athletic program.

“We will be memorializing him this upcoming season and will be announcing those plans at a more appropriate time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family during this difficult time.”

Villanueva, went on to an eight-year career in the National Football League as a punter and placekicker for the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys.

An English major at NM State and a talented sportswriter as well, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Rams after a Los Angeles scout had remembered seen him kick a 49-yard field goal in the Aggies 29-12 win against the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque.

He played for the Rams from 1960 to 1964, setting the team’s record for single-season punting average (45.5 yards per punt in 1962) and career gross punting average (44.3 yards per punt). Both stood for 45 years.

Villanueva was traded to the Cowboys for the 1965 season, and played in two NFL Championship Games including the famed 1967 “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay – his final NFL game.

Villanueva connected on 100 consecutive point-after-touchdown kicks with the Cowboys, setting a team record that ran 41 years before being broken.

For his NFL career, Villanueva averaged 42.8 yards a punt, held a 97.9 percent accuracy rate on PATs (236-of-241) and hit 85-of-160 field goals.

He led the NFL in punts and punting yards in 1962 and 1963 with the Rams.

While playing in the NFL, Villanueva also started a career in broadcasting as the sports director for KMEX-TV in Los Angeles.

After his NFL retirement in 1968, he became the station’s full-time news director and later the station’s general manager.

It was from that position that Villanueva became a pioneer of the Spanish International Network that was later sold and renamed Univision.

As a businessman, he co-founded the investment firm Bastion Capital in 1992 and co-founded Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners, an investment firm aimed at helping family businesses.

Villanueva served as the Commissioner of Boxing for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.

As a philanthropist, he established the Danny Villanueva Scholarship Endowment to recognize NM State students who excel in leadership and community involvement in 1991.

In 2002, Villanueva presented a major gift toward the university’s stadium annex project. The stadium annex, later known as the Fulton Center. It serves academic as well as athletic purposes, and Villanueva’s gift funded the Danny Villanueva Victory Club dining facility.

The Villanueva Victory Club contains several pieces of memorabilia from his time as an Aggie and NFL player.

Villanueva was inducted as an inaugural member of the National Hispanic Hall of Fame in 1988, as an inaugural member of the National Academy of Television Arts and Science’s Management Hall of Fame in 2003 and inducted into the Hispanic Sports Foundation for Educations’ National Hispanic Hall of Fame in 2007.

“Danny Villanueva was an outstanding Aggie, a great football player and a generous philanthropist, said NMSU President Garrey Carruthers. “He came from a small town in New Mexico and rose to become a very successful entrepreneur in both television and real estate. We are sad to hear of his passing, yet very proud of all his accomplishments. Our hearts go out to his family.”

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