Like a magnet, Floyd Johnson attracts athletes.
It's not because Floyd has served as BYU's equipment manager forty plus years. It's because Johnson genuinely cares about athletes in a way much different than peers, parents, fans or coaches.
These athletes invite Floyd into their inner sanctum of private thoughts, worries and feelings. More often than not, Floyd teaches them how to be champions for life.
Floyd might be the most revered person Cougar players remember from their times at BYU, but his influence extends beyond the world of athletics.
The 82-year-old Johnson, affectionately known as "Brother J" to many athletes, is now battling bone and prostate cancer which slows him down a bit in body, but not in mind. While he labored last week to get the BYU basketball teams ready on his own volition, he gets distracted from his physical aches and pains.
"Floyd, Bishop Johnson, or Brother 'J"- all terms of endearment from former players who looked up to him for his Christ-like characteristics, devotion to BYU and his unconditional love of the athletes," said Mel Olson, a former all-conference player, football coach and now professor of physical education.
"We called him 'T-Bone,' " said former golf coach Karl Tucker, who knew of Floyd long before he led BYU to the NCAA golf title in 1981. "Floyd was one of the nicest salesmen to the customers at the ZCMI warehouse before he came to BYU. He always leaves the pasture greener than he finds it."
"He can be classified as a man without guile and one that lives his religion every day of his life," said Olson.
Since Floyd officially retired in 1983, he doesn't work as much with the BYU football team, but he seems to have touched lives everywhere. Brandon Doman is fond of Floyd for being there when it didn't look good for "The Domanator" to be BYU's quarterback.
Johnson sees a parallel between Brandon Doman and Steve Young in many ways.
"He's almost exactly like Steve," says Johnson, who recalls when Young came to BYU before he became famous.
And the athletes keep coming back to him, young and old to get sage advice and to inquire of his health. Floyd was most touched when Philadelphia Eagles Coach Andy Reid stopped by unannounced for a visit at Johnson's Orem condo last February. Another athlete spent recently several nights with Floyd to spell family members from aiding a bedridden Johnson.
"They never forget," says Floyd of the athletes he has helped. "Some I helped get in the mission field by helping them make up their mind."
There is usually a missionary twist to Floyd's method as he works with athletes. That missionary zeal flourished when Floyd realized he didn't have a knowledge of the scriptures and he had a Bible without a concordance, references or dictionary.
"I got my brother to give me some key scriptures about Jesus' baptism and the Holy Ghost," said Johnson, who served as a young man on a mission near the Great Lakes.
He's since served as a Church Bishop several times, including once to a young teenager named Gary Crowton, now BYU's head football coach.
And Floyd's memory is still keen. He is able to quote the scriptures and still challenge players to memorize a Book of Mormon verse in Mosiah 3:19 about the natural man. The basketball players don't get new gym shoes until they pass this scripture off to Floyd, who is concerned about the world being filled with too many natural men.
One former Cougar basketball player claimed he couldn't memorize the scriptural passages of the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, so Floyd sat down with him for 20 minutes. The player memorized the section and got the new shoes, then returned to thank him after using those scriptures on his mission.
"BYU has to have special witnesses," says Floyd, who has a vision of the mission of the University and Church ingrained in his heart. He has challenged many an athlete to prepare for a mission and has done a lot of match-making in between.
Many and varied are the stories reminiscent of Floyd.
"He's the man," said Erin Thorn, BYU's All-American women's basketball player. "You can be having the worst day and he brings a smile to your face. He's fair, he fixes Tang drink mix for both the men's and women's team. If the men don't practice, we don't get Tang and vice versa."
Chad Bunn, BYU's video specialist, roomed with Floyd on Christmas Eve at the Citrus Bowl in 1985.
"He made me sing 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,' then we read the Christmas story in Luke," said Bunn, who started as a manager with Johnson. "Floyd once sang every song in the hymnbook on the way to Laramie, Wyo., because our equipment truck didn't have a radio."
Often Floyd tells the story about All-Pro Return Specialist Vai Sikahema struggling with a decision to serve a mission. Sikahema had been told he would "teach the gospel to his family," which many interpreted as his native Tongans. Sikahema got a mission call to South Dakota and later would proclaim the Indians as part of his family.
His favorite athletes include Kresimir Cosic, Devin Durrant, Phil Odle, the Young brothers (Mike, Steve and Tom), Gifford Nielsen, Vai Sikahema, Max Huber, Orrin Olsen, Paul Linford, Keith Rivera, and many more. As twilight comes in Johnson's life, gone are his spirited early morning racquetball games, but many are the lives he continues to touch.
Floyd's immediate family numbers three deceased brothers, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren, but his circle of influence extends to many more.