Laura Rutledge is doing what we all should be trying to do in 2020 — making the best of a bad situation. Rutledge, in her first year as host of ESPN's NFL Live, has been dealing with very difficult circumstances. Between NFL Live and SEC Nation, she's very busy at work and doing a lot of it virtually, which means she's working from home, where her husband, former MLB infielder Josh Rutledge, is also working and, oh, yeah, who's watching the kid?
"I think there are so many difficult parts to this so I try to count my blessings, but I’m certainly lucky with my husband and I both having full-time jobs," she told The Big Lead. "He’s working from home and having to watch Reese [the couple's one-year-old daughter] some of the time when I’m at work, and I’m doing a lot of my work from home. And I feel like everyone can relate to these moments where you’re looking at each other like, no, I thought it was your turn to watch her and I’ve got something right now. But the other thing that’s been a blessing for us is that I would have been traveling a lot during this time of the year during football season and now I don’t, so I’m able to be with her every day. So that’s been a major silver lining for me."
Rutledge's day starts around 10 a.m. ET with the first Zoom production meeting for NFL Live.
"I usually get to the ESPN campus around 1 p.m. ET and then we have another meeting that’s virtual even though we’re all on campus, we’re just in different spots with our maps on. And we do our meeting and then I write some more and then head into the studio around 3:30. So it’s a longer day than you could expect for an hour-long show but we’re real committed to making sure every single thing is just perfect and interesting and all of the above for the people that watch."
Part of making things interesting for viewers is finding unique content and using whatever you have sitting, or in this case crawling, around the house. All season baby Reese has been picking SEC games using miniature helmets in the hallway of her home.
"The idea originated from our coordinating producer on SEC Nation, Baron Miller, and he’s real creative with stuff. We initially thought we would do the dogs versus the babies because Roman Harper, who’s on SEC Nation, has I believe four kids and one of them is a baby that’s even younger than Reese. Then Tim Tebow and Jordan Rodgers have dogs so we were going to try to see who had a better record, but then Reese was the only one that was really buying in, probably because I forced her to."
"When the helmets come out she gets so excited because she knows she’s going to pick one and I firmly committed to never doing a retake so whatever happens is what we go with. The week of Florida - Georgia she tripped over the Georgia helmet so I said that she picked Georgia, but I actually don’t want to count that one against her record because I think she just tripped and meant to pick Florida."
Of course, college football isn't all babies tripping over miniature helmets. It's also about tailgating. When the pandemic is over Rutledge wants to hit Baton Rouge first because of the Cajun food and fun atmosphere. For now, she's interested in seeing how people are making do at home.
"We’re really excited about partnering up with Johnsonville and giving people an opportunity in such a unique time, we can’t tailgate the way that we always would right now. So this is a chance to kind of show your home setups and the homegating. And what I love about this that I think SEC fans especially have this incredible passion and sometimes it can come out in their tailgating and this is a chance for them to show it."
"I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be on the road before this current time, and fans will be like, Oh you would love my setup at home and I’ve got a huge mancave or womancave and I’ve got my grills going and all that. I think that there’s this feeling of wanting to have bragging rights among these SEC fans. This is just the chance to do it. It’s real easy, I mean all you have to do is post a photo or video of their entry and use the hashtag #SECHOMEGATEPROCONTEST and tag Johnsonville and they could win $10,000 and they could end up on the 2021 SEC tailgate tour. And really get a chance to kind of show what they’re made of so I love that. It’s giving fans a chance to show their personality."
Speaking of personalities and diverse, properly seasoned food, Rutledge has the honor of working with Dan Orlovsky most days. This means putting up with some tasteless (literally) food takes.
"We had this whole argument yesterday. We have a group thread on text that just gets so ridiculous, but we, Mina Kimes and I, were making fun of him for his propensity for wanting plain food and we were telling him that it’s unacceptable to say that a plain bagel is better than an everything bagel. Then Mina and I were talking about how Korean food is so much based around garlic and how she eats a lot of garlic and I’m there like, Yeah, I love garlic too and I cook with garlic and Dan told us that we must have really bad breath and we said, Well, Dan, you have really bad taste so I’m not sure what’s worst. He loves to try to dish it back to us and then we just crush him."
"Dan Orlovsky is easy to make fun of sometimes but every single day brings such a unique perspective to the game, and every single time he breaks down a play it’s like all of a sudden I feel like I’m some sort of football coach because I understand it and I feel like I could draw a play. He makes it that wonderful to understand and easy to understand."
She has similar praises for the rest of her NFL Live crew.
"Mina’s bringing the analytics perspective plus her incredible analogies. It just amazes me every time Marcus Spears speaks with that big personality and really intelligent perspective on the game, and then Keyshawn Johnson who just cracks us up every single time. Without a doubt he will tell us he’s the best at everything no matter what it is. Like the other day we’re like Man, did Keyshawn even like to block in the league and he gets on the conference call and he’s like, I was the best blocker in fact I invented blocking. Adam Schefter is a part of our show almost daily and I honestly pinch myself every time to get to talk to him, being pretty much the foremost guy when it comes to NFL news. It’s just been a really cool crew."
Rutledge is cherishing her time on NFL Live because it's like working with her best friends, but calls it bittersweet because they can't really see each other. As well as things are working out, she's still looking forward to a return to the old normal.
"I think if you’re somebody who regularly watches TV at this point you don’t mind a delay on the television if somebody obviously is delayed in their response. That used to be something that might be jarring, now you're kind of used to it. We're used to seeing people’s homes behind them and their setups and all of that is kind of interesting. So I think that we figured out a way to do it. We figured out a way to make it work. We’ll see more of it but then I also do think, whenever it’s safe to do so, I do believe that ESPN and the other networks have plans to get us all back together again."
Rutledge points to ESPN's College GameDay as an the ultimate example of why on-site shows are just something that can't be replicated.
"It’s certainly been different without crowds and I still think they’ve done an incredible job of maintaining atmosphere and maintaining that feel of being on campus. I think from the SEC perspective that is something that I hope will be in our future to go back on campuses. There’s something that I’ve always treasured, is being able to interact with the fans and being able to bring people a piece of their campus on a Saturday morning that they wouldn’t otherwise see. There’s the magic to that."
I guess the ultimate message here is that Laura Rutledge is ready to get back to the tailgate. She's just going to need to find a babysitter first.