'Hey Wazzu' is common refrain in Detroit

THE RESURGENCE OF Washington State's Cougars on the gridiron this fall has not been limited to Pullman. The long-suffering Detroit Lions, whose 4-0 start has shocked most NFL observers, have benefited from the contributions of a quintuplet -- three players and two assistant coaches -- who once donned the crimson and gray.

Star kicker Jason Hanson has spent his entire 20-year pro career with Detroit since being drafted out of WSU in the second round in 1992.

Two veteran backup players, running back Jerome Harrison and safety Erik Coleman, joined the Lions as free agents this season. Offensive line coach George Yarno was a player and assistant coach at WSU, and tight ends coach Tim Lappano is a former Cougars assistant as well as the father of current WSU running back Kyle Lappano.

As fate would have it, four of those five are also products of the Greater Spokane League -- Hanson from Mead High, Coleman from Lewis and Clark, Yarno from Ferris and Lappano from Gonzaga Prep.

FEW PEOPLE ARE ENJOYING the Lions' ascendancy this season more than Hanson and Harrison. Hanson, Detroit's all-time leading scorer (seventh in NFL history), has suffered through 10 straight losing seasons. Harrison was a big Lions fans as a youth ("I grew up watching Barry Sanders, the greatest player ever") who occasionally attended games while growing up two hours away in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"Since I was a little kid, I can't remember the city being on fire like this," Harrison said in a telephone interview Thursday. "The football team and the baseball team (the Detroit Tigers); it gives the city some hope and positives, something to look forward to."

"There's a lot of great fans in Detroit that love football and the Lions," Hanson said. "They've just been dying to explode and cheer us on. "We haven't done anything to allow them to do that, so there's a lot of pent-up excitement."

THAT EXCITEMENT WILL BE on display Monday at Detroit's Ford Field, when Chicago provides the opposition in the Lions' first appearance on "Monday Night Football" in 10 years. The Lions won the past two weeks on the road, erasing 20- and 24-point deficits in the second half to beat Minnesota and Dallas, respectively.

Speaking of comeback wins on the road – Harrison and Hanson are well aware of the dramatic late comeback win the Cougars recorded at Colorado last Saturday.

"I'm up on 'em," Harrison said. "Me and Jason, we look at each other every Saturday and go, ‘What's the (Coug) score?' I'm glad they're turning it around."

The three former WSU players on the Lions (including Coleman, who likely will miss Monday's game with an ankle sprain suffered at Dallas last Sunday) never let the Cougars stray far from their hearts.

"We all call each other ‘Wazzu'," Hanson said. "We don't have names.

"We keep tabs on them. It's great to see them competitive again."

Hanson feels the same way about his current team, of course.

"We've got a good head on our shoulders as a team," Hanson said. "Enjoying it, I suppose, but also realizing it's got nothing to do with winning our next game. We just won our first four games, which is a good start, but that's all it is. Three-fourths of the season is still ahead of us."

AN ADDED BONUS FOR HARRISON playing in Detroit is the chance to catch up with a large number of relatives who live in the city.

"If they want to see me play, all they have to do is drive downtown," Harrison said.

Harrison's parents, who were born and raised in Detroit, live in Kalamazoo. Harrison said old friends back home are hitting him up for tickets now that the Lions are winning again.

"Everyone's thinking tickets are free," he said with a laugh. "That's not how it goes."

THE 41-YEAR-OLD HANSON is attracting increased media attention this year. The modest veteran said he's not exactly being mobbed by fans, however.

"There's always a little bit of recognition," said Hanson, who grew up outside Spokane (where Coleman, Yarno and Lappano were raised) in the little town of Colbert, Wash.

"A lot of times people look at me and it's like, ‘Gosh, that guy looks familiar.' They say, ‘Did you work for my doctor?' or something like that."

Hanson said he doesn't mind. The way he looks at it, the Lions are undefeated, so he has nothing to kick about.

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