News Date: 
Sunday, July 8, 2007

Source: Athens Banner Herald

Posted: Sunday, July 08, 2007

To be perfectly honest, I had forgotten that I was wearing my red Georgia jacket - and I had it on to keep warm, not make a political statement - so I was taken aback when the guy greeted me at my breakfast table with an excited "Let the Big Dawg Eat," followed by four or five passable "woof, woof, woofs."

This is not unusual behavior, of course, around these parts - but I was sitting in a lodge in Glacier National Park, a couple thousand miles from Sanford Stadium, and the barker wasn't an expatriate citizen of the Bulldog Nation - he was a Montana native. He looked the part, too. He was a slight fellow with mischievous eyes, a friendly smile and a floppy fishing hat pulled down over his tanned face.

"Georgia, huh?" he asked, then another big grin and a "I bet you know my friend ..."

And honesty compels me to admit that I thought, "Here we go. Thirty-five or 40 thousand folks associated with the University of Georgia and I'm supposed to know ..."

And he said "J. Michael Floyd " with the same reverence most people reserve for comments on "Herschel Walker."

At first the name slipped by me, but my wife and daughter said simultaneously, "Sure, we know Mike Floyd," and my son Jackson - whose university career consists, so far, of two days at orientation - chimed in with, "That guy rocks."

Then I realized who they were talking about. To me, he is the food service guy. To my wife, he's the person who fed her for four years at Valdosta State College, and to my kids, he is the person that makes eating school food cool - not to mention delicious.

To my new found friend, whom it turns out is the director of food services at the University of Montana, J. Michael Floyd is an icon. He proceeded to explain why, sounding for all the world like a sports junkie singing the praises of a legendary athlete.

"He's the best of the best," the guy said. High praise indeed, particularly coming from a peer. "I try to emulate as much of his program as I can." (I knew the guy was pretty sharp when he used the word "emulate." I would have said "copy."

"I'm on his promotions list," he continued. "I get all the same stuff you do and try to do as much of the same things as I can."

He wasn't finished, either. He had statistics. "He runs a food service at a public college where the program is not mandatory and still has an 96 percent participation rate. Amazing."

Isn't that something? I had to go all the way to Montana to learn what a treasure we have right in our own back yard.

Now I knew about Mr. Floyd, understand. My lovely wife, Lisa, was in college when we met and when I visited her in Valdosta we would always eat at the school cafeteria, and not just because I was cheap.

The food was great and the food guy - J. Michael Floyd - made these great Monte Cristo sandwiches.

When our oldest child, Jamie, started school at UGA we were amazed at how good the food was. The dining hall was set up like a cruise ship with stations for this and stations for that - catering to every appetite under the sun. And when Lisa realized who was running the show she was not surprised. Jamie raved about the food and would even invite me over from time to time on special nights. And when say special, I mean special. Let me put it this way. They didn't serve boiled shrimp and lobster tails when I was a student.

And our son Jackson says that the food was one of the main selling points for some of his friends who were undecided about attending UGA. I bet Florida can't say that.

Let the big dawg eat, indeed. J. Michael Floyd. One more reason that it's great to be Bulldog on a Saturday night - not to mention Sunday through Friday.

• Darrell Huckaby is an educator, author and public speaker. Contact him at www.darrellhuckaby.net.