Sunday, October 29, 2006


#43 - Walter Gordon, Guard/Tackle, 1916-1918
Walter Gordon was Coach Andy Smith's first great player, and one of the first black men to play college football in the West. When Gordon came to Berkeley from Riverside Poly High, the school had just restarted its football program after switching to rugby for a number of seasons. Gordon arrived at Cal with Smith, who had moved on from Purdue, and quickly became a dominant force on the offensive and defensive lines. The football of that day was a running game exclusively, and Gordon - a big man at 6'0" and 200 pounds - cut an impressive swath through opposing linemen. He had remarkable quickness and reflexes, owing not only to natural ability but to his training as a varsity athlete in both boxing and wrestling at Cal.

By 1918 Cal was showing flashes of excellence, finishing the year 7-2 with a win over mighty Oregon. After his senior season, Gordon was named an All-American - the first black man and the first Golden Bear to earn the recognition. Andy Smith regarded him as one of the fiercest tacklers he had ever seen - quick enough to chase down opposing backs and strong enough to break through a wall of blockers.

Gordon broke barriers off the field, as well. He was the first black to obtain a law degree from Boalt Hall, and became the first black officer on the Berkeley police force. While serving on the force, Gordon was also one of Smith's top football assistants and helped guide the "Wonder Teams" of the mid-1920s as a line coach and scout. He opened a law practice in 1922, and also served as President of the Alameda County NAACP. In 1944 Gordon's old classmate Governor Earl Warren appointed him to the California Adult Authority, which he eventually served as Chairman. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Gordon Governor of the US Virgin Islands. After three years in that post, Gordon stepped down to take yet another appointment, this time to the federal bench. He retired back "home" to Berkeley in 1969, was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975 and passed away a year later at the age of 81.

Walter Gordon's was a fascinating life: trailblazer, star athlete, and legendary figure in the Berkeley community for most of his 81 years.