Cliff Gordon and the Williston Coyotes
Football season in North Dakota ended recently, with four teams earning the crown in their own separate divisions. In the past, however, there was only one champion in the state, and on this day in 1917, the Williston Coyotes, under the direction of Coach Joe Cutting, ran away with the state title.
The Coyotes were on a roll before the state championship, and the Williston Herald commented on the strong and growing team: “For the past twelve or thirteen years, Williston has had a football team and although it has been gradually growing stronger each year, this is the first year that they have played well enough to be in the line for first place in the state.” If they had to wait in line for their turn in the past, however, this year would be much different for Williston. With the reported scores, it seemed Williston didn’t need to wait in line—they already appeared to be at the front.
The Coyotes began their season with a 69-0 win over Sydney, and continued their shut-out scoring with a 45-0 win over Fargo. It seemed no one would be able to score on the big Williston boys as they shut Minot out in a 82-0 game. The Herald commented that this “was the most humiliating defeat ever administered to a local team by the Willistonians.” But, they hadn’t seen anything yet. In their next game, the Coyotes would crush the undefeated Jamestown team 102-0. In just four games, Williston had scored 298 points without a single point scored against them. It would take injuries to cripple the line for Williston before a team could score against them. Regardless of injuries, Williston easily waltzed away with the state title after beating Devil’s Lake 51-20.
One of the star players among the state champions was quarterback Clifford Gordon. Gordon began playing quarterback for the Coyotes in 1916, but it didn’t take long for Gordon to earn a reputation as a great football player. The Minot Daily News was so impressed with Gordon that they gave him credit in their shut-out game with Williston. The News even compared Gordon, who was an African-American, with the African-American Football Hall of Famer, Fritz Pollard. “The little Quarterback, Gordon,” said the News, “was the ‘Pollard’ of Cutting’s crew. He was a speed artist in every way. Whenever he carried the ball, he was good for a first down. He was shifty and squirmed through the Minot defense time after time. His playing was of the spectacular nature and gave the fans an exhibition of the football sport that fanned their interest, even though he was playing on the opposing aggregation.” Gordon also played an impressive game against Jamestown, adding several yards to the overall stats, and contributed two touchdowns to their impressive scoring.
After his career with the Williston Coyotes, Gordon continued playing football as left end with the University of Southern California Trojans, allegedly becoming the first non-white player to play for the school. Gordon was part of the team in 1920 when they won the Pacific Coast Championship. Gordon later graduated from USC as a physician. North Dakota’s “Fritz Pollard,” died on January 22, 1952.
By Tessa Sandstrom
California Death Index, 1940-1997.
“Williston men at college,” Williston Herald. Dec. 2, 1920: 5.
“Devil’s Lake loses game,” Williston Herald. Nov. 29, 1917: 1.
“Jamestown is defeated,” Williston Herald. Nov. 22, 1917: 1.
“Minot loses; score 82-0,” Williston Herald. Nov. 15, 1917: 1.
“Williston wins game,” Williston Herald. Nov. 8, 1917: 1.
Polk, Darla. “Area’s few black settlers came from all over; had varied lives.” Williston Herald. Mar. 5, 1993: 1.