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Tom Brokaw on Danny Villanueva: 'an honor to be on his team, even a long time ago'

To the editor: The disquieting news of Danny Villanueva's death brought back memories of our time together at KNBC in the early 1970s. ("Danny Villanueva, co-founder of Univision, dies at 77," June 20)

He was unique in many ways: our first on-air Latino, an NFL star with a folder full of locker room stories for boys only, and a cheerful presence on the air and off, which made him popular with the audience and colleagues alike.

He was also my first draft pick when some friends from The Times challenged the KNBC newsroom to a touch football game. My second pick was Tommy Hawkins, recently retired from the Lakers.

On the appointed Saturday we met on a Westwood field. The Times team arrived with a game plan of plays and assigned positions. The newspapermen were disciplined and speedy.

Our team was making it up as we went along. I started as quarterback and it wasn't going well, so Danny said, “Lemme take the snaps.” His first play called in the huddle featured Hawkins. He said something like, “Tommy, go long and go high.”

Bingo. Touchdown.

Danny was famous as a kicker, but he could throw and he was very nimble as a scrambler. We needed another score to secure a victory, so Danny told one of our reporters to act as if he were leaving the game but bolt for the sidelines on the snap.

The reporter was Roger Sims, a very large African American and a graduate of the Air Force Academy. He was wearing a windbreaker from his alma mater.

The play worked perfectly and we won. Bob Abernethy, our local anchor, said it was the first time a 6-foot-6, 200-pound-plus black man, on a field of mostly white players, successfully became a phantom end. My friends at The Times were gracious — until we ran film of the victory on the local news.

I didn't see Danny much once I left Los Angeles, but I followed his career closely and I was proud of his business success and, especially, his charitable citizenship.

It was an honor to be on his team, even a long time ago.

Tom Brokaw, McLeod, Mont.

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