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2 on 5
THOMAS LAKE
December 08, 2008
One night in 1992, in a small town in Alabama, the North Jackson Chiefs won a game against seemingly insurmountable odds. Then came the crashes and the gunshots and one man's fateful choice
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December 08, 2008

2 On 5

One night in 1992, in a small town in Alabama, the North Jackson Chiefs won a game against seemingly insurmountable odds. Then came the crashes and the gunshots and one man's fateful choice

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And coach Jay Sanders has elected to use his only remaining timeout.

Sanders knows what it's like to be poor. His first bed was a dresser drawer, and he played in the snow wearing socks wrapped in bread bags. He lent Robert a tie to wear on game days and never asked him to give it back. He spent all season trying to persuade Robert to use the pump fake. "The kids'll go flying," he told Robert, "and you're wide open."

No one could remember Robert using it in a game.

This is an ugly thing, folks, for a high school basketball game, and it's all a result, in my opinion, of the officiating.... I don't know the names of any official that's working this game and don't really care to know. But I certainly think that games of this nature should certainly be evaluated by whoever is in charge of the officials' association.

The referees' names will be forgotten. One will be rumored to live down the road in the town of Hollywood, but when reached by telephone he will swear he was not in Stevenson that night.

Both teams are given to slap-happy defense, and the storm of whistles may simply be the refs' best attempt to stop the boys from knocking each other around. They will ultimately call 84 personal fouls; Guess counts 40 on North Jackson, 44 on Fort Payne. The Wildcats had more players to begin with and so will have more at the end.

And we've got a foul called now on Fort Payne.... Chad Cobb goes to the line.

The game will end and the years will pass and sometimes Chad will still hear this crowd roaring.

Chad Cobb misses the free throw, and Fort Payne claims the rebound. They're playing five against three. They'll just back it out and wind [down] the clock.... 67 to 62. All over but the crying.

Nothing in the manual could prepare a coach for this. In retrospect it will be easy to say what Fort Payne coach Phillip Collie should have done with 1:38 to play. Poured it on. Pressed his two-man advantage. Widened the lead until it was insurmountable. But Collie does what seems to make sense at the time. He bleeds the clock. Sixteen years later, in an e-mail to a reporter, he will write, "I want to ask that if in your story there is blame concerning the North Jackson game, that you put it all on me." Fine. But he is a better coach than his players think. He came to Fort Payne to be near his only relatives and his in-laws after his wife, Dixie, died in childbirth, leaving him with a newborn and a toddler to raise alone. The North Jackson game will drive him to work even harder. After the next season he will leave Fort Payne for Buckhorn High in New Market, Ala., and two years later he will win a Class 5A state title.

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