Cletus “Clete” Blakeman, a partner at Omaha’s Carlson & Burnett, went viral on social media Sunday night thanks to his role as the lead referee for Super Bowl 50.
Today.com reported that Blakeman won over National Football League fans and nonfans alike with his “big cheek dimple and a special way with his muscular arm gestures.” Others also chimed in on Blakeman’s newfound sex appeal, with E! Online calling him the big game’s real winner, while US Weekly wondered “Who Is He?”
At it happens, Blakeman is a 51-year-old personal injury attorney who was a college quarterback for the University of Nebraska from 1984 to 1987. He became an NFL field judge in 2008 and was promoted to referee two years later. Blakeman didn’t return a call to his office Monday, but his officiating crew drew solid reviews for their work in Super Bowl 50, in which the Carolina Panthers were defeated 24-10 by the Denver Broncos, whose quarterback Peyton Manning is known for frequently calling out “Omaha!” in his cadence on the field.
Blakeman told Omaha Magazine two years ago that he had spoken with Manning about his own Omaha connection. Blakeman spends the NFL offseason focusing on personal injury, wrongful death and general litigation at Carlson & Burnett, an Omaha-based firm he joined from his own shop in 2012. Before becoming an NFL referee, Blakeman officiated Division I college football games.
As it happens, Blakeman isn’t the first beefy attorney to attract attention while in NFL pinstripes. Edward Hochuli, known for his own bulging biceps, is a longtime NFL referee who also serves as a name partner at Phoenix-based Jones, Skelton & Hochuli. Hochuli came under fire in 2008 for a crucial blown call in an NFL game, something that Blakeman has also experienced in 2013 when he failed to explain another noncall.
NFL referees are part-time employees, so it’s not unusual for officials to hold other jobs in the off-season, and several work in the legal arena. The Am Law Daily reported four years ago on the names of a handful of other NFL lawyer-referees, all of whom are members of the National Football League Referees Association, a Kansas City, Missouri-based labor union that has sparred with the league over its representation of officials in collective bargaining negotiations.
The NFLRA paid $193,004 to Kansas City-based Arnold, Newbold, Winter & Jackson during fiscal 2014-2015 to handle “NFL negotiations and other issues,” according to the organization’s most recent LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.