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Today’s Pro Bowl the swan song for two NFL officials

Two officials will end their career at today’s Pro Bowl in Orlando. While Pro Bowl retirement games meant more when played in Hawaii, it will still be a special moment in Orlando this evening as umpire Jeff Rice and down judge Mike Spanier will work their final game.

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Mike Spanier

Mike Spanier joined the NFL in 1999, working in referee Ed Hochuli’s crew. Over the years he worked on crews lead by Larry Nemmers, Jeff Triplette, Walt Coleman, Bill Vinovich and John Parry.

For a few seasons (including this season) he served as a swing official, who worked either as a line judge or down judge on a different crew each week. It is very likely that Spanier worked with every NFL referee in the last few years.

While Spanier never worked the Super Bowl on the field, he was the alternate for Super Bowl LI. In his 21 seasons, Spanier worked nine playoff assignments – three wild card games, five divisional playoffs and the 2006 NFC Championship Game. 

Spanier, like his officiating partner Walt Coleman, was a lunch pail official. He showed up, did the work and made his calls without splash or flash. 

This will be his second Pro Bowl. Best wishes to Mike Spanier and congratulations on reaching the football officiating pinnacle.  

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Jeff Rice

Jeff Rice ends his career working a total four Pro Bowls, including his second consecutive all-star game. He is completing his 25th year as a NFL official. Rice wore number 44 his entire career and worked the umpire position all 25 seasons.

During his career, Rice worked a total of 15 playoff games on the field, including six wild cards, six divisional playoffs and Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and 50. His first two Super Bowls were instant classics, decided on the last play. 

Rice broke into the NFL in 1995 as a swing official. Over the years, he worked on crews lead by referees Gary Lane, Larry Nemmers, Walt Coleman, Bob McElwee, Ron Winter, Tom White, Gene Steratore, Jeff Triplette, Walt Anderson and Clete Blakeman. Blakeman and Rice were backfield partners for Super Bowl 50.

Moving the umpire from behind the defensive line to the offensive backfield has helped prolong several umpires’ careers, but Rice has had his share of scares over the years. In the late 1990s, when the umpire lined up with the linebackers, the ball carrier and a swarm of tacklers all met at Rice. As he was falling down, he caught a helmet right in the head and had to leave the game with a concussion. 

Best wishes to Rice as he works his last game today and congratulations for a career any official would envy.

Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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2 thoughts on “Today’s Pro Bowl the swan song for two NFL officials

  1. That Mr. Spanier never received an on-feild Super Bowl assignment over 20 seasons shows the NFL appoints the best of the best of the best for the Super Bowl every year. If Spanier had been an MLB umpire, he would have worked at least three World Series over 20 seasons because MLB cares more about appeasing bad umpires by throwing them a postseason bone instead having the best ones every year.

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