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Danny Villanueva, President of KMEX-TV : He Gets His Kicks Serving Latino Community

September 29, 1985|GARY LIBMAN

When Danny Villanueva's father was on his deathbed, he told his son that he was tired. "I think he was telling me more than leave me alone. . . . He was telling me to keep going," Villanueva said. "To move on."

After the burial of Primitivo Villanueva in Calexico, Calif., Danny Villanueva hugged his brothers and sisters and flew back to Los Angeles for a business dinner party he hosted that night.

He never cried.

The pace and single-minded pursuit of a goal were typical of Villanueva, 47, the president and general manager of the Spanish-language KMEX-TV, Channel 34, and former punter and place kicker for the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys.

Villanueva said he shed no tears at the 1972 funeral because he believed he had to keep his 11 brothers and sisters together and because of his father's instructions "to keep going."

Whirlwind Schedule

He has strived to follow that admonition ever since on a whirlwind schedule that has been slowed only by four hospitalizations for stomach problems, including ulcers.

The schedule has also taken him from a two-room earthen hut in Tucumcari, N.M., where he was born the ninth child of migrant missionary workers, to a three-bedroom ranch-style home above Santa Monica Canyon in Pacific Palisades.

Along the way, Villanueva made 1,000 free talks to youth groups as a member of the Rams, worked seven days a week for 28 months (weekdays as station manager at KMEX; weekends as sports announcer at KNBC), and worked 18-hour days routinely.

He still does. A board member of at least 12 businesses and charities, Villanueva recently flew to New York on Tuesday for business and charity meetings Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday afternoon he took a plane to Kansas City, where he did color commentary on a Spanish-language broadcast of the Los Angeles Raiders' football game.

He caught a late-night flight to Los Angeles, where his chauffeur picked him up for work at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

The schedule continued last week as he worked long hours to develop today's scheduled internationally televised fund-raiser for Mexican earthquake victims.

He has slowed his pace somewhat. The chauffeur drives him during work hours to ease the strain of travel, and he runs for an hour in solitude each morning at the Wilshire Country Club and arrives at work at 8 a.m. instead of 7.

But he still gets only three to four hours sleep a night.

"I got up at 3 this morning," he said on a recent afternoon, sitting in shirt sleeves in a brisk wind in the patio of the house he shares with his wife, Myrna, 46.

A son, Danny, 25, who attended Stanford, is an assistant general manager at KMEX. Another son, Jim, 21, an All-American punter at Harvard, plans to attend business school.

Villanueva said he spends most nights listening to news radio. "If it doesn't bother my wife, I'll watch cable news all night. . . . Been doing it for years."

His nocturnal habits started at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces where he played football, edited the school newspaper, worked on the local paper and majored in English literature.

Chance for a Tryout

Villanueva had finished his football eligibility as a kicker and was practice teaching when he received a phone call asking if he'd come to Los Angeles for a tryout.

The Rams' coaches had been meeting about their need for a kicker, and Chuck Benedict, a radio broadcaster who was listening, remembered covering Villanueva as a high school player in Calexico.

When Villanueva reached Los Angeles, the Sheraton West Hotel had no rooms.

"They stuck me in a small ballroom and they put a rollaway bed in it, right near the rest room," he said. "I thought I was in the biggest hotel room I'd ever seen.

"I told my wife it had a great ceiling with ornate stuff and a chandelier and . . . I asked somebody if that's what they called a suite, you know, 'cause I'd heard about a suite in a hotel. I'd never seen anything like that."

The next morning the Rams drove him to Grant High School in Van Nuys where he kicked for Rams' Coach Bob Waterfield, a Pro Football Hall of Fame member as a quarterback and kicker.

"Bob sat there quietly with a toothpick in his mouth and . . . I thought he was the greatest thing I'd ever heard of and so I kicked and I kicked and I kicked and I kicked," Villanueva said.

"I don't recall the exact number anymore, but it was 30-something in a row and I never missed. And he said, " 'I've seen enough.'

" . . . So they offered me a contract. . . . It was $5,500. . . . I was hearing about bonuses (for signing a contract), so I thought I'd hit 'em up for a bonus. They gave me $200, and they took it out of my last check."

It was a bargain for the Rams. Kicking for Los Angeles from 1960 to 1964, Villanueva punted for an average of 45.5 yards in 1962, a team record he still holds. He also set a team record for the longest field goal, 51 yards, which he shares.

Shares Football Record

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