September 18, 2013

Super Fan: USC benefactor Joe Rice knows how to throw a tailgate

South Carolina benefactor Joe Rice's success has allowed him to live large, and he has taken that same approach to tailgating.

If you want to see the Taj Mahal of administration buildings, ride over to the Gamecock Athletic Village and tour the $8.5 million, 68,683 square-foot Rice Athletics Center, which was named after its benefactors, Joe and Lisa Rice. From its large glass doors, marble-floored entryway, winding staircase to the second floor and flat-screen TVs on the wall, this three-story structure has no peers in college administration buildings.

“Coach Spurrier's first year here, he and (Athletics Director) Eric Hyman came down to see me,” said Rice, who resides in Mt. Pleasant. “We had lunch, and they explained what their goals were, to try to get competitive in the SEC.

“They brought pictures of the facilities at Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida and Coach explained what those things meant to the players and to recruiting, and how we needed to turn it up if we were going to be competitive. Over the next couple of years we continued to talk about it and bought into his plan. We are proud of it.”

Rice is a nationally-renowned litigator who has fought and won battles against major firms, including a $246 billion suit settlement against the tobacco industry.

“We deal with a lot of human-rights issues, cases involving asbestos manufacturers, and with securities and consumer fraud,” Rice said in a newspaper article. (His partner in the firm, Ronald Motley, passed away in August.)

His success has allowed him to live large, and he has taken that same approach to tailgating.

“I haven't kept track of it, but I probably haven't missed more than five or six home games since 1972. Over the last 15 years this has been a real big family event for us. There are four of my fraternity brothers and their kids who all came to Carolina.

“Our group includes associates of mine and people I play golf with, from time to time. Jay Swanson is a friend from Boston, and he's had three kids go to school here. He comes down for five games every year and tailgates with us.”

Rice's tailgating setup includes a large trailer that takes up several spaces in Carolina Park, and houses tables and chairs, grills and all the other accessories including two large flat-screen TVs

“I had an RV for several years, and I saw one of these trailers down at LSU, so I I decided that was what I was going to do, and I got a van to pull it,” Rice said. “We drive up, and we're ready to go.”

There are often elaborate pregame meals. “For the North Carolina game a bunch of guys were coming, and one of them is a caterer,” Rice said. “I told him to take care of the food, and I would take care of the beer. We had hamburgers and hot dogs and all the fixins' to make tacos and several deserts.

Joe, who turns 60 in March, and Lisa, whom he married in 1979, have one daughter, Ann.

Despite the setback at Georgia, Rice is high on this season's Gamecocks. “I think we have a good team. I think we have young skill players at linebacker and in the secondary, and they have to get more disciplined. Otherwise, I believe we have the talent to have a great season.”

Rice, who still practices law full-time, and his wife are heavily involved with a number of charities. “The Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center in Charleston is one we've been very active with,” he said. “We support East Cooper Meals on Wheels program. We're now doing some work with the MUSC Children's Hospital.”

The University of South Carolina awarded Joe and his family with its 2011 Garnet Award for their passion for, and devotion to, Gamecock athletics, and that same year he was awarded the Tom Fazio Service to Golf Award, in recognition of his efforts to help promote the SC Junior Golf Association Programs.

There is a special tailgating event planned for later this season. “One game every year we cook a pig. We're going to do that for the Florida game this year,” Rice said. “I have to get permission from the University to get it done, but I think we'll get it done.”

There is every reason to believe that he will.



A native of Union, he graduated from Union High School in 1964 where he was a three-sport letterman for the Yellow Jackets.

When he was 13, he came to Columbia with two super Gamecock fans. They took him to the stadium and introduced him to coach Marvin Bass. When he saw the Horseshoe, he knew immediately where he was going to school, that he would live in Columbia for the rest of his life, and his dream was to be a sportswriter.

A journalism/media arts major (1964-1969), his first job after school was with the South Carolina Farm Bureau, where he was the Assistant Director of Communications. He managed Carolina Printing Co. for several years, where he met Dexter Hudson, which led to a 30-year career with Spurs & Feathers as senior writer and columnist, which ended this past June.

He and his wife, Mary, have two children, Kevin (41) and Jennifer (34).

Contact Glenn at gsnyderusc@aol.com

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