For those who couldn't make it:
The 2010 camp experience is pretty much divided into two trains of thought--one: the observation that everything we've done, Hope Johnson would have done better and with more panache, sense of humor, and sense of purpose; and two, the lament that we all wish she was here to prove it.
But we are what we are, and so we attacked, frantically and piecemeal, what Hope would have done in her sleep. The first thing we realized, those who had banded together to try to be a semblance of Hope, is that access counts, and where Hope would have walked in and taken charge, those of us trying to fill her shoes waited, patiently and meekly, behind security fences, hoping someone would eventually show up to show us the way.
They did, of course, as the Giants are a class organization that absolutely does appreciate the passionate fans at Big Blue Interactive. They do, however draw the line at greeting a BBI representative with the temerity to show up dressed, head to toe, in, as he put it, "Jets green."
Fortunately, they didn't hold this against us, and the offender quickly goes back to the Best Western to change into appropriate colors. Meanwhile, Rob Nargi has unloaded a large cardboard box containing the pieces of this year's trophy at the corner of the field designated for Tom Coughlin's post-practice press conferences, where the Giant of the Year ceremony will be held. It's a stone's throw from where a Giant in a number 9 uniform is kicking, and we quickly realize it's Lawrence Tynes when he shanks a couple to the left of the uprights.
Though the designated meeting time is 4:30, most of the BBI crew are waiting by the hospitality tent by 4. There is an ambulance stationed just in front of us, and someone--either Dave in DC or Nargi--comes up with the brilliant idea of photographing the ambulance and posting it with a rumor that Steve Smith has been grievously injured on the way to the ceremony--which proves to be partially true as word circulates that Smith has, indeed, suffered a groin injury.
But Smith somehow makes it to the ceremony, dressed in a gray T-Shirt, smiling, shy, seemingly very appreciative and somewhat taken aback by the praise showered upon him by the gathering of about 50 or 60 BBIers. Dave in DC, chosen to present the trophy, notes that funds for the gorgeous glass and wood trophy were raised solely through donations from BBI members. The subtext was obvious and not lost on Smith--regular people who couldn't afford it reached into their pockets and gave what they could, because it meant the world to them to honor this year's best player on their favorite team.
Dave noted what would be different if Hope were here with us today: "Late last year, we lost one of the legends of BBI and one of the best Giants fans there ever was, Hope Johnson," Dave said, with Smith to his right on the small stage. "Hope was taken from us far too young this past winter--she was the conscience of BBI and, if she were here today, would not be talking about Steve Smith's 2009 stats. She'd be talking about the dignity and class with which Steve carries himself and All-Pro Charity Bowl he generously held to benefit the Chelsea Piers Scholarship Fund. Hope...would care more about you as a person than you as a player."
Dave noted that the Giants, touchingly, had been keenly aware of BBI's loss, and had honored Hope in various ways. He then touched on the epic BBI battle between Eli Manning and Smith for the Giant of the Year award this year, and pointed out that though we all realize Eli will win several of these awards, 2009 was Steve Smith's year. He read the stats: 107 catches, shattering the former team record by 25 receptions; 1,220 yards; 61 first downs; an uncanny knack for sniffing out the first down marker.
"In short," Dave finished, "he is everything we love about the Giants and a true blue Giant all the way."
Smith received the trophy to thunderous applause. He saluted Hope and pointed out how humbled he was to win the award with "all the great players on this team." As cynical as we can all be about whether the players really care about such awards, it should be noted that as Nargi started to take apart the trophy to pack it away in its box, Smith said he was actually hoping to carry it out, intact, without the box, back to the lockerroom.
The ceremony was followed by the traditional pizza party, this time at the bar/restaurant near the Best Western well known to BBIers, Maggie's. Once again, Hope's memory was everywhere, as she had traditionally organized the party.
But while she wasn't around to handle logistics, she appeared in a hundred stories. The poster known as Berrylish told an incredible story about a trip to Super Bowl 42 that was special to BBIers both living and deceased. And naturally, Hope had paved the way.
It seems that a beloved BBIer named Bob Bennett had died shortly before the incredible game. Hope had helped Berry secure tickets to the game, sitting near a cousin of Sam Madison's. Berry, for reasons that are too complicated to get into here, was in possession of a portion of Bob's ashes, and was trying to come up with a perfect final resting place for them. As Bob was as devoted a Giants fan as the rest of us, the solution, naturally, was to scatter the ashes at the Super Bowl.
So she brought them in a ziploc, somehow avoided having them confiscated, and then confessed to Madison's cousin about her plan. At first put off, the cousin ultimately offered suggestions as to means of disposal. Seeing no better alternative, Berry, who noted that there was a wind current under her feet, surreptitiously scattered Bob's ashes--during the Tyree touchdown drive, no less--into the wind current and, ultimately, into the air of, arguably, the scene of the Giants greatest triumph.
That was just an informal story. Berry's main contribution to the night was the stunningly moving slide show tribute she put together for her great friend featuring some of the words Hope's shellshocked admirers offered after her death. There were contributions from many of the most well-known BBI contributors, including Dave in DC, Eric, RiffRaff, T-Bone, Tommy the Elephant, Second CVA, Britt in Virginia, schnitzie and many, many more. At Montreal Man's encouragement, those who submitted testimonies and were in the room were asked to read their words aloud. More than one broke down trying to do it. As chiefek2 put it: "when I heard that she had passed, I cried. I am a 57 year old, 26 year Army veteran, and she had that much of an influence over me. I will miss her dearly."
Eric pointed to the role she so effortlessly assumed: "She took it upon herself, without any prodding from me at all, to be the BBI social director."
When the presentation ended, it was dead quiet in the room for about thirty seconds, and then someone said what everyone seemed to be thinking.
They may have been talking about the party, but it could just easily have been a general statement about our collective sense of loss of direction, our uneasiness about trying to fill the shoes of someone in which doing so, we now know having tried, is simply not possible.