Merle Haygood was a doggone good fiddle player in his day.
He counted among his acquaintances Roebuck Staples, Doc Watson, and Levon Helm when he "was working for a living."
Merle lost interest in music about the time I did, so we have had a long distance relationship for decades. He calls me, I call him. He e-mails me, I e-mail him.
And just think, we used to put stamps on an envelope to let each other know what we were doing.
The other day Merle called, and I knew it was a long distance call. You can tell by the way it rings when you've been listening to telephones as long as I have. So, naturally there was apprehension in the air.
Someone is hurt; something bad must have happened.
No, the voice on the other end began, "Hey, man, what have you been doing?" Relieved, I responded that I had been watching the Duke-UNC game and the Blue Devils had lost.
He laughed and said "I know you have been, that's why I called." "Funny" was my reply. Merle opined that "Duke hasn't been right since they let Snyder get out of town."
Quinn Snyder, there's a name a name synonymous with Coach Krzyzewski's success.
As a player, Snyder backed up Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker on Coach K's first ACC Champion. Later he became one of the finest defensive players in the country, although he came to Duke as a better than 40 points per game scorer.
Like Mike Krzyzewski had done when he came to West Point as a player, Snyder transformed himself from a scorer to a point guard who was a "nail down defender."
As an assistant coach at Duke in the late 1990s he was responsible for bringing in Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Jayson Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mike Dunleavy–to name just a few.
He left after the 1999 National Championship game loss to UConn for a head coaching position at Missouri.
He never got to coach Boozer, Williams, and Dunleavy, but he is responsible for bringing them to Duke.
Those three, and Battier, were the cornerstone of Duke's last National Championship team in 2001.
Where is Snyder now I asked? "Probably in jail," said Merle who then went over a list of Snyder's final days at Missouri that sounded like Richard Nixon's second term.
"Too bad," I replied, thinking Duke could use some of that ready-made NBA talent in the recruiting classes of late.
Merle is an Oklahoma fan. He has maintained for some time that Waymon Tisdale is better than any player Duke has ever produced. Now you can add Blake Griffin to his list.
Usually, I just let Merle talk, and then about every third sentence I pipe in with "are you nuts"? Tonight, I just listened.
"We're going all the way" said Merle, "we got the best ball player in the country, the best freshman in the country, and our coach knows everything your coach knows and he isn't afraid to use it".
What color is infuriating?
Properly primed, I asked Merle who his choices were for the Final Four this season. He replied without hesitation Oklahoma in the Midwest, Utah in the West, LSU in the South, and Pittsburgh in the East.
What about UConn, they're number one in the country, I had to ask. "Could be UConn instead of Pitt but, if the big fella gets in foul trouble UConn is finished" said Merle. Besides, he added, "the big guy at Utah is better than Thabeet."
I wish I could report that he is often looney when it comes to his sports knowledge, but he did pick Florida in '06 and Syracuse in '03. It's been three years, '09. He's due.
Unable to coax a Duke championship out of him, he left me with his favorite saying, "OU's goin' all the way, can't nothin' touch 'em."
I'm not answering the phone anymore.