Do you prefer water bowls to Super Bowls? Do you like fur more than (pigskin) leather? Do you choose dogs barking in delight over coaches barking in anger?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you will probably be among those tuning in to Puppy Bowl XIII instead of Super Bowl LI on Sunday. Airing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET (noon to 2 p.m. PT) and repeating throughout the day, Animal Planet’s annual mini-gridiron competition, which is designed to promote pet adoption, will feature dozens of dogs from rescues and shelters dragging chew toys across the goal line and into your surely melting hearts.
Last year, we witnessed a tortoise streaker and silkie chicken cheerleaders, as well another Team Ruff blowout. What animal antics will take place this year? Puppy Bowl referee Dan Schachner — back for his sixth stint as the game’s zebra — previews the action with these 10 hints.
1. Team Fluff is ready for revenge. Team Ruff has blown out Team Fluff two years running. Has this competition to promote pet adoption gone to the dogs? It has not, assures Schachner. “We sincerely do try to make them evenly matched,” he tells EW. “Team Fluff is coming out with a vengeance this year. I can’t tell you exactly which team will win because it’s a live event, and anything can happen, wink, wink [the game was filmed in the fall], but I can tell you that they’re out for payback.”
2. Keep an eye out for a few exceptional MVP canine-dates. “We always have a couple of multi-touchdown winners, but this year we had four or five,” says Schachner. “And it got ridiculous to the point where we were like, ‘All right, take a break, have a seat on the bench!’” He singles out Shih Tzu mix Rory, cocker spaniel mix Nikita, and lab mix Hope.
3. An unconventional touchdown might raise some flags. Schachner notes that this year’s contest features the first touchdown scored not with a chew toy, as Nikita pulled a piece of Schachner’s equipment past the goal posts. “We thought for years that chew toys had to be dragged into the end zone,” he says. “Apparently anything on the field that is small and can go into a dog’s mouth counts as a touchdown. They had to have a debate in the control room, “Does it count? Does it not count?’ After review, we did call it good.”
4. Another competitor had a true thirst for camera time. “There was one dog that continued to lap at the water bowl for what seemed to be an eternity,” Schachner explains. “I’m not talking, like, wanted some water. I’m not talking, like, thought it was interesting. I’m talking, like, obsessively smacking the water bowl consistently. That water bowl had to be switched out. It was damaged.”
5. This year’s cheerleaders are more laid-back than last year’s. “We’ve had chickens in the past, we’ve had rabbits in the past, I believe we’ve had guinea pigs in the past, but this year it’s a combo of rabbits and guinea pigs, both are rescues,” he says of the sideline cheer squad. “Unlike the chickens, unlike pigs, [who] are really rambunctious and let you know that they’re out there, these guys are preeeeetty chill. I mean, you give them a couple of pellets and they’ll do whatever you say.” Also on the sidelines for the first time: mascots, including a chinchilla and an owl. Famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is on hand for the coin toss. (And social media maven Meep, who is now an African gray parrot, will tweet out game highlights). “It’s no longer Puppy Bowl,” Schachner mock-moans. “It’s now a veritable zoo that I’m trying to manage.”
6. Scan the star-studded stands. You will spot some A-list canines in the crowd, including such Instagram celebrity dogs as including Chloe the Frenchie, Chloe Kardoggian, and Toast Meets World. “All of these puppies are basically no-names, right? They’re just unknowns that are trying to make it,” says Schachner. “So it was cool for them to see someone who had reached a celebrity status cheering them on.”
7. Special needs dogs will get special treatment. Last year, the spotlight was on senior dogs in need of adoption. This year’s game will pay tribute to those canines requiring special assistance. “Special needs dogs sometimes languish in shelters because they seem to have extra challenges, so this year we were able to have Doobert, a hearing-impaired dog; Lucky, a three-legged dog; and Winston, a sight- and hearing-impaired dog,” says Schachner. “Winston was a little shy, Doobert had a little bit of a hard time, but you would not have known that Lucky had any challenges whatsoever…. Obviously, we’re just doing this to try to point out the fact that when you go to a shelter, don’t overlook dogs that may look a little sick or challenged.”
8. The game was messy — but maybe not as much as previous ones. The crew went through 1,600 puppy pads on the sidelines to manage the dirty part of the game. “As far on the field, you have to imagine at one time we’ve got 10 to 12 dogs on the field, they’ve each gotta go at one point or another, and we shoot for two days,” says Schachner. “I’m not great at math, but I’m going to say there’s at least a couple hundred, at least, pees on the field. Poops were not so bad this year. No poops in this tunnel this year, so that for us is huge.”
9. Speaking of peeing… At the conclusion of this year’s game, a team will be awarded the first-ever The Lombarky Trophy — a nod to the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy — and it’s shaped like a fire hydrant. An Underdog Award also will be handed (pawed?) out. “I guess that’d be the equivalent of the Rookie of the Year award in human football,” says Schachner. “And underdog is not the dog that is literally under your foot — although that does happen a lot to me as the ref — it is the dog that has really shown the most spunk. That’s what we like. We like scrappy dogs.”
10. You might go Gaga for the insane kitten halftime show. “Kitty Gaga is performing ‘Puparazzi,’ the famous song that she is known for,” says Schachner. “At the beginning of Kitty Gaga’s performance, you will see kittens just going for it. You can see cats playing guitars, you can see scratching on a DJ turntable, you can see Kitty Gaga in her infamous meat dress. Don’t worry, it’s a vegan meat dress, so there’s something for everybody.” How legit is this performance? “I can confirm it’s not a lip sync, it’s not singing, it is an actual meow,” he says. “It’s a meow set to music.”