May 14, 2015

1965: Cowboys Deal Tommy McDonald to Rams for Danny Villanueva

On May 14, 1965 the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams swung a trade in which Dallas sent flanker Tommy McDonald to the Rams for kicker Danny Villanueva.

The 30-year-old McDonald (he turned 31 prior to the ’65 season) ranked fourth among active NFL receivers with 333 catches and first in touchdown receptions with 68. A halfback at Oklahoma on Head Coach Bud Wilkinson’s national championship teams in 1955 and ‘56, he was chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round of the 1957 NFL draft and spent his first seven seasons with them. Converted to flanker, he was selected to five straight Pro Bowls and led the league with 1144 pass receiving yards in 1961. He reached double figures in receiving TDs four straight times, set a franchise record with 237 yards in a game against the Giants in ’61, and was a key performer on the 1960 NFL Championship club. Generally considered to be the smallest player in the league at 5’9” and 172 pounds, McDonald, who typically disdained wearing a facemask, played with great enthusiasm as well as skill and was a fan favorite with his acrobatic catches. It thus came as a shock when he was dealt to Dallas for the 1964 season as part of new Head Coach/GM Joe Kuharich’s housecleaning in Philadelphia.

McDonald was moved to split end and had a lesser year with the Cowboys, catching 46 passes for 612 yards, for an uncharacteristically low 13.3-yard average, and scored only two touchdowns. He had wanted a trade and there were concerns as to his commitment to playing.

The Cowboys had sorely missed Sam Baker, the combination placekicker/punter who was traded to Philadelphia in the McDonald deal. Dick Van Raaphorst was successful on just 14 of 29 field goal attempts and punter Billy Lothridge injured his knee in training camp and was inconsistent.

Danny Villanueva was 27 and had come to the Rams as an undrafted free agent out of New Mexico State. He kicked the longest field goal in team history up to that time (51 yards) and also held the club record with a 45.5 punting average in 1962. In five years in LA, Villanueva kicked 44 field goals in 83 attempts (53.0 percent) and was successful on 111 of 113 tries for extra point while averaging 44.3 yards on 296 punts. The development of Bruce Gossett as a placekicker caused him to be used exclusively as a punter in ‘64.

Los Angeles was in need of help at wide receiver, having traded split end Jim Phillips to the Vikings and flanker Carroll Dale to Green Bay, and McDonald resolved any concerns about decline or desire to play by moving into the lineup at flanker and catching a career-high 67 passes for 1036 yards (15.5 avg.) and nine touchdowns. In tandem with rookie split end Jack Snow, he worked well with young quarterbacks Roman Gabriel and Bill Munson and had four hundred-yard receiving games, including one of 200 yards on six catches that included three TDs in a late-season contest against Cleveland. McDonald received Pro Bowl honors, although the team finished in last place in the Western Conference with a 4-10 record.

McDonald played one more season for the Rams, adding 55 catches for 714 yards to his career totals, before being dealt to Atlanta just prior to the 1967 season, his next-to-last. He proved to be a productive addition to the Los Angeles offense in his two years with the team, pulling in 122 passes for 1750 yards (14.3 avg.) and 11 touchdowns, on the way to a career total of 495 receptions for 8410 yards (17.0 avg.) and 84 TDs, all totals that ranked high on the NFL’s career lists at the time. McDonald was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

Villanueva (pictured at left) was effective for the 7-7 Cowboys in 1965, connecting on 16 of 27 field goal attempts, 37 of 38 tries for extra point, and averaging 41.8 yards on 60 punts. He lasted another two seasons in his dual kicking role, leading the NFL by hitting on all 56 of his extra point attempts in 1966, on his way to a club-record 100 straight. His field goal percentage dropped off, and he was good on only 8 of 19 attempts in ’67, but he remained an overall well-regarded kicker while Dallas reached the NFL Championship game in each of his last two years. Villanueva retired following the 1967 season and became a broadcaster, and later was part-owner of the Spanish language television network now known as Univision. For his NFL career, he kicked 85 field goals out of 160 attempts (41 of 77 with Dallas), was successful on 236 of 241 extra points, and had a 42.8-yard average on 488 punts.