In last year’s feature on the Puppy Bowl, we wrote that cute — from Buzzfeed’s animal-GIF clickbait to Internet-celebrity cats and dogs — had become big business, due in part to Animal Planet taking a chance on adorable counter-programming to the Super Bowl.
This year, it’s become an institution. The Puppy Bowl has reached its milestone 1o-year anniversary, and is pulling out all the stops: Penguins! Keyboard Cat! A live Times Square experience! And it had better, because for the first time, the show has competition in the form of the copycat (heh) Kitten Bowl on the Hallmark Channel and a Fish Bowl on Nat Geo Wild.
So what can you expect from Sunday’s big game? There will be puppies doing puppy things (playing, barking, chewing) in a football field-shaped box. The ref, Dan Schachner, will manage the chaos on the field by calling fouls for things like “excessive cuteness.” And you will sit at home, squeeeeing your way through the broadcast, squeezing a pillow to provide an outlet for your cute aggression. Remember, no matter who you root for, the puppies always win.
It’s all that and, of course, the 10 highlights below.
1. Lil Bub
The perma-kitten is one of the Internet-famous pets that emerged a few years after the Puppy Bowl got its start — and this year, she’s a special guest on the show. Bub’s appearance is caused by a genetic mutation, and one of its symptoms is that she’s not able to keep her tongue in her mouth, much like a certain former Disney starlet. But her role will be to check in throughout the game with color commentary.
Last year’s cheerleaders were a group of rather uninterested hedgehogs, so we’ll see if this year’s penguins can muster up some team spirit, or if they’ll just wander skittishly among the megaphones and giant ice cubes on the field.
3. Fantasy teams
In a new interactive feature from Animal Planet, you can draft puppies onto your fantasy all-star team. But honestly, a true Puppy Bowl fan would draft all of the puppies onto their team — who could bear to leave one out? This year the puppies will be awarded points for activities like tackles and takeaways, not just touchdowns. So, inasmuch as there are rules in the Puppy Bowl — (said the ref last year: “The only hard-and-fast rule is that the chew toy needs to be dragged into the end zone. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what direction. It doesn’t matter how it’s dragged there. It could even be by accident. That’s a touchdown.”) — your fantasy team could triumph depending on how many times its members steal football-shaped chew toys from other puppies.
4. Keyboard Cat
OK, so it’s not really Keyboard Cat. The original play-em-off feline, named Fatso, passed away decades ago (the popular YouTube video came from footage taken in the ’80s). But there will be a cat, wearing a shirt, playing a keyboard for the halftime performance — except the cat will be playing a Bruno Mars song with considerably less charm than the meme’s original ditty. Close enough? Poor Fatso is probably spinning in his grave.
5. A parachuting kitten
The big stunts aren’t just for the Super Bowl. This year’s halftime show will also parachute a kitten onto the field. An early video preview of this moment reveals that the kitten seems annoyed to be strapped into its safety harness, but gamely tolerates being lowered gently onto the field before booking it over to the scratching post with the rest of his pals. And remember folks, last year, we discovered the doping scandal of the Puppy Bowl world: There’s catnip on that field.
6. The snacks
Can’t decide what to serve for your Puppy Bowl party? Georgetown Cupcake has got you covered. And since your pet can’t eat chocolate, you can treat Rover and Mister Tickles to these canine Puppy Bowl party recipes.
— Georgetown Cupcake (@GTownCupcake) January 27, 2014
7. Puppy selfies
Submit yours on Instagram using the hashtag #puppybowl, and you might find your pup on TV.
8. The “Too Cute” cam
One of last year’s additions to the Puppy Bowl was a super high-speed camera that created slow-motion shots of the puppies romping. It’s been branded as the “Too Cute” camera now, and it’s the best way to see all of those wagging tails and floppy ears. Expect to see it used to great effect throughout the show (and to be the source of the most GIF-worthy material of the night).
9. Puppy fun facts
The Animal Planet Web site has some extra material for Puppy Bowl superfans, including some witty puppy bios. Cody, a Spaniel, “Thinks fatherhood has mellowed Kanye.” Max, a Shih Tzu, “Wants One Direction and The Wanted to just get along.” Tyga, a pit bull, “knows what the fox says.”
Bound to be this year’s most entertaining player, the Richard Sherman of the Puppy Bowl. She’s in the water bowl, she’s biting the ref’s socks, she’s all over the place.
Puppy Bowl X. Begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 2 on Animal Planet, and airs on repeat.