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What is ‘Awesome’? Nats fan receives 40-foot banner inspired by his ‘Jeopardy’ appearance.

Terry Hanlon was puzzled as he began to unroll the enormous blue banner that his girlfriend, Kim Smith, had wrapped in a Nationals blanket and presented to him as an early Christmas gift Monday. Then he saw the white question mark, and it clicked.

Smith had acquired one of the approximately 40-foot long banners that hung from the rooftop railing of the First Residences building beyond the outfield at Nationals Park this season, and it wasn’t just any banner. This one — TREBECK ?’s BAM BAM? — was partly inspired by Hanlon.

“I knew immediately that was it,” Hanlon said. “I was just so surprised, and it was so great.”

Earlier this year, Hanlon, a 30-year-old PhD student in higher education at the University of Virginia, appeared on “Jeopardy” and correctly answered a question about Bryce Harper. Dan Steinberg wrote about the confusion that the Harper clue, which referred to the Nationals outfielder by his seldom-used “Bam Bam” nickname, caused viewers when the episode aired in July. It turns out that the “Bam Bam” reference threw Hanlon for a loop, too.

“The trick is you’re supposed to read the question faster than Alex [Trebek] does so you’re ready to buzz in as soon as he’s finished, because that’s when the buzzer’s unlocked and you can actually ring it,” Hanlon said. “I read through it and it said ‘Bam Bam,’ and that threw me. I mean, 2015 National League MVP, I knew it. I have two bobbleheads of his that celebrate the MVP. I was ready for that, but that ‘Bam Bam’ just threw me. It was nice to see that it wasn’t just me, and that a lot of Nats fans were confused. Thankfully, I was able to get it right and bring those $1,600 back to the Washington area.”

Luke Koczela, a project manager for McCaffery Interests, which partnered with Grosvenor on the development of the 325-unit First Residences building, is one of the people behind the idea to hang various banners from the rooftop this season as a means of engaging with the community. One of Koczela’s colleagues saw an article about Harper’s “Bam Bam” nickname appearing on “Jeopardy” and decided it would make for a good sign. Previous messages included “HIT IT HERE, HARPER!” with the distance — 976 feet — from home plate, “BOB AND FP 2020? and “TREA WAS HERE, ON THE WAY TO SECOND,” which was submitted by a fan.

“The spelling of Trebek got slightly overlooked,” Koczela said with a laugh this week. “After the misspelling was brought to our attention, we pulled it down.”

The “Bam Bam” banner was displayed for one game against the Miami Marlins on Aug. 28, which was long enough for MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo to poke fun at the mistake.

“We’re starting to jump the shark on the signs across the way at this park,” Santangelo, who has gotten to know Koczela this season, said during the broadcast of the Nationals’ win that night. “They were funnier when they kept them simple. They’re so far out there, I just don’t get them anymore. ‘Hit It Here, Bryce,’ that was simple, it was awesome. And now, I think they’re digging themselves a little too much and they’re getting way too deep. And their spelling’s not even right anymore. Trebek is T-R-E-B-E-K, there’s no ‘C.’ Tighten it up.”

Hanlon and Smith, who are partial season ticket holders, weren’t at the game when the “Bam Bam” banner was up, but they received several messages from friends. Smith decided it would make a great gift and eventually reached out to Koczela.

“A sign that happens to be about something Terry said on TV? That’s kind of cool, like a one-in-a-million thing,” she said. “I just wanted him to have it. Luke was nice enough to let me come over and grab it.”

“The fact that a Nationals fan answered that question and we can get it back in their hands is awesome,” Koczela said.

Fans can expect a new banner on the building when the National League Division Series begins with Game 1 at Nationals Park on Friday. The other banners from this year are in storage, and Koczela’s group has considered selling them as part of a fundraiser.

“We also talked about the idea of making T-shirts of the signs at the end of the season and giving the ones that reference players to the players,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hanlon is still trying to figure out the best way to display his one-of-a-kind gift in his Charlottesville apartment.

“I’m trying to map out the dimensions of my living room to see how many times I’ll need to wrap it around to make it fit,” he said. “Right now, it’s wrapped up until we find a more permanent spot. This isn’t something that thumbtacks can handle; we’ll probably need a little more hardware than that.”

Article: Scott Allen, The Washington Post
Photo: Luke Koczela