HERNDON, VA — HERNDON, Va. -- Quick now. Can you name three Detroit Lions?
Well, there's Barry Sanders and Erik Kramer and . . . and . . . and . . .
Even the Washington Redskins, who'll play the Detroit Lions in the NFC title game, aren't all that aware of who the Lions are once you get past Sanders and Kramer.
When Washington coach Joe Gibbs was asked yesterday if he knew many of the names of their players, he said: "I know some names, some numbers, but I'm not much of a name guy. I'm a little bit more of a who's-playing-nose-guard guy. I know what their nose guard looks like and I know what their left end looks like and their inside linebacker, [Chris] Spielman, and people like that look like."
When Gibbs was asked if he knew the name of the nose guard, he said, "I call him nose guard."
Gibbs declined an offer to start rattling off some names.
"I would have the names of some of those guys, but I'm not going to start because then you're going to give me the next one and I'mnot going to do that," Gibbs said. "I know more of them than you probably think I do."
For the record, the nose tackle's name is Lawrence Pete, who was drafted out of Nebraska three years ago.
Pete replaced Jerry Ball, who was one of the Lions' better-known defensive players, but was sidelined for the year by what he said was an illegal block by the New York Jets.
When offensive tackle Joe Jacoby was asked if he could identify many Lions, he said: "Yeah, we watched the game yesterday. They got a bunch of guys. What they've got is 47 individuals who are playing well together."
That the Lions have so many virtually anonymous players makes their climb from a 45-0 loss to the Redskins in the opener to an NFC title game matchup one of the more improbable sagas of the football season.
What the Lions are doing is riding an emotional high since offensive lineman Mike Utley was paralyzed against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 17. When Utley was being wheeled off the field, he gave his teammates the "thumbs up" sign, and players haven't forgotten that.
The Lions, who had lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 30-21, the previous week, have won seven straight since then.
"They're playing with great emotion," Gibbs said. "I think they've got some extra things going there. Psychologically, they have some things going. They've got their one player hurt, [they're] playing hard for him, Utley. I think there's a lot of emotion on their team right now."
The atmosphere surrounding this game will be much different than it was a week ago when the Redskins played the Falcons, a trash-talking team that managed to infuriate them.
By contrast, the Redskins seem to admire what the Lions have done.
"I think they're a class act," defensive lineman Charles Mann said. "They have some good people on their football team. I'm happy and proud to see them do and accomplish the things that they've accomplished. They deserve it. I don't think we'll hear much talk from them this week."
Mann's interest in the Lions grew after Wayne Fontes became head coach three years ago. Mann played for Fontes' brother, Mel, in high school in Sacramento, Calif.
When he played for Mel Fontes, Mann didn't know he had a brother who was then an assistant at Tampa.
"When I saw him out on the field [as a head coach], I said, 'That looks like Mel Fontes. Wait a minute. That's got to be his brother,' " Mann said. He checked with his school and found out Mel is Wayne's brother.
Despite the Lions' emotional high, what the Redskins have going for them is playoff experience. It's their fifth NFC title game in the last 10 seasons. It's the Lions' first since 1957, when it was the NFL title game.
"It definitely helps in playoffs having guys who've been there before," Gibbs said. "They can tell the younger guys, 'Hey, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you don't let this pass by. Maybe it's the last time you come this way,' and those types of things."
Gibbs also warned that the Redskins can't be overconfident even though the Lions are 2-4 outdoors this year and have never won in Washington.
"Hey, if you want to sit around and say, well, hey, we got something coming our way just because we beat them in the first game or because they haven't had a good record here or something like that, hey, sit around, you'll be the sitting around for the Super Bowl, too. We've got a choice. They can either get out there and play hard or they can be sitting home," Gibbs said.
NOTES: Even though Kramer hadn't thrown a pass in a non-strike game before this year, Gibbs said the Redskins tried to sign him off the Plan B list, but he turned them down because he thought he had a better chance to play in Detroit. Washington assistant Rod Dowhower was an assistant coach in Atlanta in 1987 when Kramer played on the Falcons' strike team and was impressed with his play.