Jimmy Carter was President and George Busbee was the state’s governor.
Georgia was off of an injury-plagued, fumble-happy 5-6 season under Vince Dooley.
Nolan Howard had graduated from Mary Persons a decade earlier and had embarked on a teaching career.
Friday nights back in the late 1970s for Howard meant doing a tape-delayed radio broadcast of Mary Persons’ football games until the man in charge of keeping stats took another job.
Never miss a local story.
“Nobody was there to do it,” Howard said. “So I volunteered. Hard to believe, I’m only in my 30s.”
Well, not so much, but three decades after taking the reins from former basketball coach Gary Mackey, Howard is still roaming the sidelines each fall keeping the stats for one of the state’s most successful programs.
That is why Howard is The Telegraph’s Sam Burke Service Award winner for 2008-09.
He is working with his third head coach since 1978, a span that has included only one losing season and 14 seasons of at least 10 wins.
“He’s a huge part of the Mary Persons family,” head coach Rodney Walker said. “He’s very, very loyal to the program, and has been very supportive of this program for a long, long time.”
Howard is on the Monroe County Board of Education and is a trucking agent for Bennett Motor Express in McDonough.
But every Friday night, he and Bob Harris are on the sidelines keeping up with who does what for the Bulldogs.
“He has been helping me for 14, 15 years,” the deadpan Howard said of Harris. “I wanted him to start doing it so I could quit. He hasn’t gotten it right yet.”
Howard’s post-high school spell with Mary Persons went better than his one on the field as a sophomore under legendary head coach Dan Pitts.
“We went 4-6,” Howard said. “The last losing season (under Pitts).”
He graduated from Georgia and Georgia College and began teaching biology. Howard, retired state chief justice Harold Clark and former principal and superintendent Charles Dumas started doing play-by-play on a cassette recorder for next-day playback.
“We were passing the microphone back and forth,” Howard said. “Real high tech.”
Howard has missed 1 1/2 games since he started and might add to that this fall for his daughter’s wedding.
“She’s marrying a boy from Jackson,” Howard said, noting Mary Persons’ biggest rival. “And my sister’s married to a Jackson native, too.”
Walker, who praised Howard’s efficiency, remembers Howard’s words when Walker took over as head coach in 2006.
“And this is kind of the real feeling around this whole place,” Walker said. “He said, ‘We’ll be OK as long as you don’t lose to Jackson.’ ”
Howard’s wife, Penny, still teaches at Mary Persons. Son Benjamin attends Middle Georgia College, and daughter Laura is at Gordon College.
Howard has had a bird’s-eye view of some of the state’s best games and players with one of Georgia’s coaching legends.
“I don’t even remember when he got started,” said Pitts, who started at Mary Persons in 1959. “He has been involved in it a long time, and he has always done a great job with it.”
The most memorable game for Howard is a little different than for most with long Mary Persons ties.
“Probably the Waycross game back in (1985),” he said. “We went down there and played them and they were beating us so bad at halftime, they announced that tickets for the South Georgia championship would go on sale the next morning.
“It didn’t happen.”
The Bulldogs turned a two-touchdown deficit into a 21-17 win.
Two games still talked about matched the Bulldogs against Washington County in 1993 and 1994.
In 1993, the Bulldogs forced overtime and won 14-13 on penetration, but they lost 24-21 to Greene County a week later in the state championship.
“We had played so hard,” Howard said of the WACO game. “We didn’t have much left.”
In the next season’s quarterfinals, with fans literally climbing trees around the stadium in Forsyth to get a view, the Golden Hawks got revenge with a 30-14 win, denying Pitts his state-record 316th win.
“We didn’t have a good record after (Rick) Tomberlin came,” Howard said of the successful former WACO head coach. “I don’t even want to talk about that.”
Howard, who still gives every player a statistics package for the season at the yearly banquet, has a dry and quick wit, especially when talking about the Bulldogs.
“They won state in 1980,” he said. “They couldn’t have done it without me.”
And about news that Walker is bringing back the same offensive scheme that served Pitts so well?
“I told him if he didn’t,” Howard said, “I was leaving.”
More than a dozen years after being summoned to help, Bob Harris is still waiting for that to happen.
Sam Burke Service Award Winners
2009: Nolan Howard: Mary Persons football statistician
2008: Anderson Bentley: longtime basketball and track coach at Baldwin
2007: Thom Mead: service to Mount de Sales basketball, football and softball teams
2006: Steve Noe: FPD volunteer track coach
2005: Gene Bloodworth: Northside Web site webmaster (posthumous)
2004: Wade Moore: Warner Robins football statistician
2003: M.L. Jones: Macon County football PA announcer for 35 years
2002: Dwight Gatlin: Hawkinsville football statistician
2001: Dan Henry: football chain crew member for 47 years
2000: Dick Frame: Volunteer track coach at FPD
1999: Ron Kicklighter: Peach County scorekeeper
1998: Walter Watson: Tattnall Square basketball scorekeeper
1997: Larry Warthen: Washington County equipment manager
1995: Charlie Ridgeway: Fitzgerald, Irwin County broadcaster for 41 years
1994: Fred Dixon: Central basketball scorekeeper for 15 years
1993: Mike Garvin: longtime coach at Mount de Sales and Willingham
1992: Ann Fugate: Southwest scorekeeper and coach at Ballard-Hudson
1991: W.C. Bill Fordham: GHSA execute director for 16 years
1990: Charlie Brannon: Official for 57 years
1989: Minton Williams: Bibb County athletics director for 19 years
1988: Johnny Higdon: spirit director at Southwest
1987: Jack Finklea: Americus recreation director for 28 years
1986: M.L. Clark: Service at Stratford and River North
1985: Raymond Beach: Crisp Couinty scorekeeper for 36 years
1984: Jim Pickett: wrestling coach at Georgia Academy for the Blind