Glenn Morris: ‘The greatest athlete in the world’ went to CSU

Ethan Lee

Born in Colorado, Glenn Morris arrived at Colorado State University in the fall of 1930. Recruited primarily for his prowess on the football field, Morris would eventually find his niche on the track. In his four years at CSU, Morris would create a legacy that supersedes many of his peers. However, the moment that decided his true legacy would come in the years after his graduation on the grandest stage in sports: the Olympic Games.

During his collegiate football career, Morris primarily played defensive end, helping CSU achieve three consecutive winning seasons. The most successful season came in 1933 as the Rams (then Aggies) tallied an overall record of 5-1-1 and a Rocky Mountain Conference championship. Morris was also awarded a spot on the all-conference team for the first and only time in his career in 1933. 

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While Morris’ success on the gridiron was impressive, he made his mark on the track. In his time at CSU, Morris set conference records that have since been broken in both the low and high hurdles. His excellence on the track earned Morris the Nye Trophy, an award that is given to the University’s most outstanding male athlete, in his final season at CSU. 

Glenn Morris jumps a hurdle. Morris set many records at CSU and won an gold medal in the 1936 Olympic Games. (Jon Hirn)

Upon graduating from Colorado State, Morris joined Harry Hughes’ coaching staff and served as an assistant for both track and football. Morris also continued to train under Hughes in hopes to compete in national track and field competitions. 

Morris’ work paid off, as he set a new American record in the decathlon at the 1936 Kansas Relays. He carried that momentum into the 1936 Olympic trials, where he again came in first, earning him the right to represent America at the Berlin Olympic Games. 

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin were hosted during a very tumultuous time in history. The usual excitement from the Olympic Games was overshadowed by the abrasive presence of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Much of the country viewed this as an opportunity to achieve a symbolic victory over the moral atrocities plaguing Europe. 

American athletes such as Jessie Owens and our very own Morris were more than happy to oblige the efforts. Morris put forth a dominating performance and easily won the decathlon. He set new Olympic and world records along with capturing a gold medal. Morris’ victory also awarded him the title of the greatest athlete in the world, a traditional honor bestowed to all Olympic decathlon winners. 

Morris’ victory was so amazing that Hitler offered him $50,000 to stay in Germany to play a part in what would have been Aryan propaganda films. Morris declined and returned to America. 

Upon his return, Morris was widely celebrated as a national hero. Then-Governor of Colorado Ed Johnson honored the homegrown Coloradan by declaring Sept. 6 to be Glenn Morris day. Morris was also honored with parades in New York, Denver and Fort Collins. 

Ironically enough, Morris would eventually end up in the film industry upon his retirement from athletics. In the late 1930s, Morris starred in five Tarzan films. Unfortunately, poor reviews and controversy regarding his salary caused Morris’ acting career to be rather short-lived. 

After stepping away from acting, Morris decided to go back to what he knew best: sports. However, he chose to return to the football field rather than the track. Morris joined the Detroit Lions as a defensive end during the 1940 season. Unfortunately, Morris’ comeback was cut short by an injury, as he managed to appear in only four games. 

Two years after his attempted return to professional sports, Morris joined the Navy to aid in America’s World War II efforts. In his five-year service, Morris accumulated many military honors, such as two bronze service stars and an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.

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His time spent in the war took a great physical and emotional toll on him. In his later years, Morris was plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as emphysema. His health continued to deteriorate until his eventual death from heart failure in 1974. He was 61 years old. 

The legacy of Morris is enshrined in various athletic halls of fame, including the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the CSU Sports Hall of Fame. Additional honors include being named to the CSU football all-century team as well as being named the University’s greatest male athlete of all time in 2013.

In 2011, CSU renamed the field house to the Glenn Morris Field House in an effort to honor one of the University’s most accomplished alumni. The dedication to excellence in everything Morris pursued should make all members of the CSU community truly proud to be a CSU Ram. 

Ethan Lee can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @EthanLee_99.