Monday Night Football returns to Cleveland tonight for the first time in six years when the Browns host the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
While the game’s discussion will focus on the heated rivalry between these AFC North teams, MNF producer Jay Rothman immediately thinks of two things when it comes to NFL games in Cleveland: “The Drive” and the mustard.
Rothman began his television career in the mid-1980s as a spotter for legendary NFL director Ted Nathanson of NBC Sports. Nathanson, who directed 13 Super Bowls, mentored a number of young production assistants in his day, including Rothman and former ABC Sports MNF director Craig Janoff.
“Teddy was a sweetheart of a guy and a legend in the business,” Rothman said. “When you were Teddy’s spotter, he really took care of you. I always carried Teddy’s bag – that was a big deal. You also got to ride in the limo with Teddy and [NBC announcers] Dick (Enberg) and Merlin (Olsen) to the game.”
Rothman recalled a special perk about games in Cleveland: “Teddy was tight with [former Browns owner] Art Modell, who would always give him a case of mustard. As Teddy’s spotter, you always got a thing of mustard, and it was delicious – the famous stadium mustard that’s so popular there.”
The most memorable game Rothman ever worked in Cleveland was the 1987 AFC Championship, aka “The Drive,” when John Elway guided the Broncos on a 98-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter to propel Denver past the Browns and into Super Bowl XXI.
“There was no room in the (announce) booth, so I was actually hanging out of the ‘Camera 3’ basket in the old Cleveland Stadium,” Rothman said. “I was Teddy’s spotter – his eyes on the field – so I would tell him through a headset what the cameras didn’t see, whether something was happening on the near or far sideline, or a substitution.
“I would share things with him and look at the program monitor which I had sitting in my lap,” he said. “I would feel like I contributed if something I told him made air.”
Said Rothman: “I distinctly remember that touchdown from Elway to Mark Jackson on the final play of ‘The Drive,’ it was right by the Dog Pound [Browns fan section] and I remember screaming, ‘They’re throwing bones! Teddy, they’re throwing bones!’ So there’s the touchdown, the pass by Elway, all the reaction shots and then a shot of the crowd throwing bones.
“I still get a kick out of watching that play,” he said, “knowing I was part of the crew that captured that moment in NFL history.”