Case Western Reserve graduate Jeff Rice (LAW ’75) will be wearing number 44 when he takes the field Sunday for Super Bowl 50.
But don’t look for him to be making plays—he’ll be watching them.
The Lyndhurst native is one of seven officials the National Football League named to work the field of its championship game, last year viewed by more than 114 million people in the U.S. alone.
Rice, managing partner of a south Florida law firm, is accustomed to performing on such a prominent stage. After first officiating high school games as a law student here, he worked his way up to the NFL’s ranks in 1994. This year’s contest marks his third Super Bowl appearance in career that also includes 16 playoff games and the 2010 and 2011 Pro Bowls.
The league’s rules require that Super Bowl officials be ranked in the top level of those in their position, have previous playoff experience and five years in the NFL. For Super Bowl 50, Rice is the crew’s most veteran official and the only one with two previous championship games to his credit.
Rice’s position is umpire, the official charged to watch the line of scrimmage for false starts, holding, illegal blocks and other infractions. He also marks off penalties and makes sure the offense has the correct number of players on the field for each play.
“In court, I’ve got to know the law. I’ve got to be able to make split-second decisions or react to a judge’s question,” Rice said in a 2011 issue of Florida Trend magazine. “When I’m on the field, I have to know the rules backwards and forwards because I have to make split-second decisions there, too.”
The NFL does not allow officials to give interviews during the season, but those who know Rice emphasize his commitment to the role and appreciation of the opportunity.
“He takes his position with the NFL very seriously,” said Beverly Grady (LAW ’76), a Fort Myers attorney who met Rice while working in Florida and who has watched Rice officiate a Super Bowl game. “He’s very dedicated.”
Rice also is a supportive alumnus of the law school. Since graduation, Rice regularly offers to meet with students and accepts some for internships. Jessica Berg, co-dean of the School of Law, recently met Rice at his Florida firm, Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz. A member of that state’s bar since 1975, Rice concentrates on business and corporate law, as well as construction and real estate transactions. He has been named one of the state’s “Super Lawyers” each year since 2006.
The work requires intense attention to detail, a skill Berg suspects Rice draws upon heavily on game days as well.
Viewers can decide for themselves Sunday, when the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, Feb 7, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
The game will be broadcast on CBS, Channel 19 in Cleveland.