He played professional football with the Buffalo Bills of the AAFC from 1947 to 1949, when the league merged with the NFL. In his first year, 1947, at the age of 20, Ratterman threw 22 touchdown passes, setting a professional football rookie record that stood for more than twenty years. He continued his career with the New York Yanks of the NFL in 1950 and 1951, the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 1951 and finished with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL from 1952 through 1956. He led the NFL in TD passes in 1950 while playing for New York. In 1956, he became the Browns' starting quarterback, succeeding Otto Graham, and was first player in the history of football to wear a radio receiver in his helmet, which allowed Cleveland Coach Paul Brown to call plays using a microphone instead of sending in messenger players for each play. Ratterman was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, October 8, 1956. A leg injury on October 21, 1956, ended his football career.
General counsel for the American Football League Players Association
He earned his law degree in 1956 and was admitted to practice in Ohio and Kentucky. He acted as general counsel for the American Football League Players Association in the mid-1960s, when Jack Kemp was the president of the union.
Campaign for sheriff of Campbell County, Kentucky
On May 9, 1961, while campaigning as a candidate for sheriff of Campbell County, Kentucky, he was drugged with chloral hydrate and put in bed with stripper April Flowers in an attempt to blackmail him and force him to drop from the race. The plot was uncovered, and publicity from the botched frame-up attempt catapulted him and his party to victory in the election. While sheriff, with cooperation from federal agents and personal interest of then-U.S. Attorney GeneralRobert Kennedy, he was able to rid the county, and particularly the city of Newport, of gambling, prostitution and vice businesses that had dominated the area since the Civil War.
He is the author of a book, Confessions of a Gypsy Quarterback, Coward-McCann, 1962, containing hilarious anecdotes of his experiences and hi-jinks in professional football. In the foreword, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham says Ratterman was the "best natural clown and comic I ever saw in professional football." In one story, during a game while Ratterman was in a game for the Browns and stern Coach Brown was sending in the plays from the bench using his messenger guard system, Ratterman told the guard who came in with the play call to "go back and get another one" because Ratterman "didn't like that play." The guard, a rookie named Joe Skibinski, obediently turned to run back to the bench and Coach Brown before Ratterman and other players stopped him.
He worked as a color commentator on TV and radio broadcasts of AFL and NFL football games for ABC-TV (1960-1964) and NBC-TV (1965-1973). He was frequently paired with Jack Buck and Charlie Jones on broadcast teams. He had the distinction of providing color analysis to Jim Simpson's play-by-play of Super Bowl I on Sunday, January 15, 1967 for the NBC Radio Network. During half-time of the first NFL-AFL Championship Game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Ratterman interviewed Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith and San Diego Chargers wide receiver Lance Alworth about their thoughts on the game's first half.