Fort Myers attorney retires as NFL referee

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Fort Myers attorney J. Jeffrey Rice, who has been moonlighting as an NFL referee for 25 years, hung up his whistle for the final time after Sunday’s Pro Bowl.

Fort Myers attorney retires as NFL referee

Rice, a former managing partner of Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, P.A., retired as a game umpire after calling Sunday’s Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

Rice began officiating high school football games in 1973, just a year after graduating from Northwestern University. After earning a juris doctorate from Case Western Reserve University in 1975, Rice was admitted to the Florida Bar and continued officiating on the weekends in Southwest Florida through the South Gulf Football Officials Association.

He steadily built a reputation as a premier official and worked his way up to college games, then NFL Europe games, before being hired by the NFL in 1995.

Rice’s role on the field has been an umpire, which includes monitoring the line of scrimmage for illegal blocking or holding calls and false starts, as well as marking off penalty yardage and counting the number of offensive players on the field.

Over the past 25 years, Rice has officiated more than 400 NFL games and been granted 24 postseason assignments, including four Super Bowls and four Pro Bowls. Postseason officiating crews are considered the league’s top game officials.

Fort Myers attorney retires as NFL referee

Rice is one of only 105 officials to work a Super Bowl game, and one of just 16 who have worked three or more Super Bowls, including two of the closest championship games in NFL history:

  • Super Bowl XXXV (2001 – alternate official): Baltimore Ravens 34, New York Giants 7
  • Super Bowl XXXVI (2002 – umpire): New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
  • Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004 – umpire): New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29
  • Super Bowl 50 (2016 – umpire): Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10

As an NFL official with 25 years of experience, Rice is recognized on a plaque displayed in a special exhibit at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Rice’s father, Bob Rice, worked for 19 years as an NFL official, including two Super Bowls.

At his day job, Rice also is at the top of his game, having been named to Florida’s prestigious Super Lawyers list for 14 consecutive years. To earn the annual honor, candidates are measured against 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement, a rigorous and methodical process to determine Super Lawyers that represent the top 5 percent of legal professionals in each state.

Fort Myers attorney retires as NFL referee

Rice, who often makes himself available as a guest speaker for local organizations, emphasizes his practice on commercial law, construction law, construction lien cases and real estate closings for clients. He is a member of the Lee County Bar Association and Florida Bar, and licensed to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rice has been honored by Martindale-Hubbell as a top-rated lawyer in business and corporate law, and has been included in the peer-reviewed legal publication Best Lawyers.

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