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Jeff Rice, a longtime Fort Myers resident, will be on the field for Super Bowl 50 as an umpire.
Rice, 65 and an attorney for a Fort Myers law firm, will officiate a Super Bowl for the third time, having been a part of Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 in New Orleans, where the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams and Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 in Houston, where the Patriots defeated the Panthers.
Rice, who is not allowed by the NFL to comment until after the season ends, spent about 20 years officiating in the South Gulf Football Officials Association in Fort Myers in the 1970s-early 90s before working his way to college games and, in 1995, to the NFL.
Rice grew up in Lyndhurst, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern University in 1972. He began officiating in 1973 while a law student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, from which he graduated in 1975.
Rice, who wears uniform No. 44, has worked 16 NFL playoffs games and the 2000 Pro Bowl. As an umpire, his duties will include patrolling the trenches, monitoring the offensive and defensive lines.
“There was no question about of all the people I’ve refed with in my 32 years, he was one of the most professional and dedicated officials I’ve ever met,” said John Mantica, 57 and the president of the SGFOA. “He always did a very thorough pregame. He took it very, very seriously.
I don’t think it surprised any of us for Jeff to first get in the NFL and then to do as well as he has in the NFL.”
Although Clete Blakeman will be the referee for Super Bowl 50, Rice will be the only member of the officiating crew with multiple Super Bowls on his resume.
“I think it’s an honor to him,” Mantica said. “I think they’re relying on him to really pull that crew together to do a good job.”
The game will be played at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, in San Francisco. NFL officials, depending on experience, make more than $10,000 for doing the Super Bowl. Veterans made about $173,000 this past, 17-week regular season.
“It’s a huge commitment,” Mantica said. “It’s difficult to really understand. You’ve got to spend several years traveling and going to clinics and you don’t get paid anything. The commitment is tremendous to get to that level.”