Jerry Fontenot is getting his first look at the Packers-Bears rivalry from the other side this week.
Fontenot, a coaching intern this summer for the Packers who was retained for the duration of the season as an offensive line assistant, played the first eight of his 16 seasons in the NFL for the Bears, from 1989 through 1996.
His loyalties are clearly with Green Bay now, but the first time he walked down the stadium tunnel this summer, he couldn't help but remember the Packers-Bears game from his rookie season.
"It was that famous Majkowski pass," Fontenot said, referring to Don Majkowski's fourth-quarter TD pass to Sterling Sharpe reviewed by instant replay that gave the Packers a heart-stopping 14-13 win in 1989. "We thought he was across the line of scrimmage, the referees thought otherwise, and that ended up changing the course of our entire season in Chicago.
"I had those memories flush through me in an instant when I walked back out onto Lambeau Field."
That keen recollection was just one indication of the richness of the rivalry to players who have participated for an extended period like Fontenot. Primarily a center, he started every game for the Bears from 1992 through '96. He also remembers seeing Reggie White take a victory lap around Lambeau after a mid-1990s win over the Bears that devastated Chicago.
Now, he can't help but look forward to being a part of the rivalry again when the 2006 season opens on Sunday.
"I remember as a player, I thought it was more for the fans to tease each other or have bragging rights or whatever, but now I understand with all the history behind each team it's such a great rivalry," Fontenot said.
"Being on this side of it will be fun, and I'm looking forward to getting out there on Sunday and doing whatever we can to beat these guys. For me it will be even more rich coming from Chicago, but I've eagerly adapted the traditions here in Green Bay."
Fontenot came to Green Bay largely via his relationship with Head Coach Mike McCarthy. Fontenot left the Bears after the '96 season and signed with the New Orleans Saints, where he played seven seasons on their offensive line, including four with McCarthy as his offensive coordinator.
Fontenot's leadership, intelligence, and respect he commanded in the locker room made an indelible impression on McCarthy.
"Guys like Jerry Fontenot and Brett Favre, when you're talking with them to install a game plan, you're talking at a whole different level than the younger players," McCarthy said.
"He made my job easier as a rookie offensive coordinator. I could do some things in protections and blocking schemes that were just ideas, and he made it go."
Fontenot retired after spending the 2004 season in Cincinnati and worked in broadcasting in the Chicago area last year but decided that wasn't enough to fuel his passion for football.
So he called McCarthy this past offseason to see if he could be of any help to the new coaching staff, and McCarthy brought him here as an intern to work with offensive line coach Joe Philbin and his assistant James Campen.
The audition went well enough to warrant a season-long contract to stay on the staff.
"He was very impressive across the board. Players administrators, personnel -- there isn't a man who has interacted with him who isn't happy he's here in a full-time capacity," McCarthy said.
"He's a great addition for us as a coaching staff, but more importantly because of all of our young offensive linemen. The timing couldn't be better to have three line coaches. You can really break those guys down -- centers, guards and tackles -- and they're getting specialized instruction on a daily basis."
The arrangement has also worked for Fontenot, who feels this is definitely the post-playing career path he's meant to follow.
"I'm definitely on board to see how far this road travels," he said. "After being in it for so long, I think I know a little bit about what doesn't work and sometimes what does work, at least from my own experience.
"So I have that to offer, and as I said, it's all about the passion for football. I just love the game. I think this is something that has been my calling. It's just a matter of getting an opportunity to explore it, and fortunately it's been here in Green Bay."