Puppies tumble, kittens dance, America awwwwwws. If the Puppy Bowl is not your favorite Super Bowl tradition yet, do you even have a heart?
What once was a semi-laughable idea meant to entertain the children and bored chip-munchers of game-day parties is now our country's most adorable pastime. And this year, you can watch it six times in a row: Puppy Bowl XII will air on Animal Planet at 3 p.m., then repeat every other hour for 12 hours straight.
You, person with heart, know the basics of the Puppy Bowl: Animal Planet gathers dogs in need of adoption from all around the country, divides them into "Team Ruff" and "Team Fluff," then plops them onto an AstroTurf field. Like their human counterparts, the puppies climb all over each other for a few hours while trying to drag their chew toys into the end zones. The halftime show is performed by kittens. And we're told this year, there will be some sort of clothing malfunction with a tortoise.
What more could you want? We'll tell you: a skunk as assistant referee and silkie chickens as cheerleaders. If you don't know what a silkie chicken is, Google them immediately.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Puppy Bowl, though, is what viewers don't see. The two-hour special is actually a compilation of three eight-hour days of filming: one for the kittens and chickens, and two for the dogs. Imagine all of those animals, plus their human handlers, plus a 60-person crew crammed in a studio in New York City. Then there's the "field" itself, a plexiglass box so small you could fit 24 of them into an NFL end zone.
That's where Dan Schachner reigns king. He's been the official referee of the Puppy Bowl since the tradition started in 2005. (His audition tape featured him trying to set up football games in a park with random dogs whose owners were less than pleased.)
"There's a lot to pay attention to," he says. "Is this one peeing too much? Is this one napping too long? Is this one biting too much?"
And heaven forbid he steps on one of the puppies.
But he will probably step on what the puppies leave behind. It's impossible to stop them from relieving themselves in the studio, considering they're needed on camera and that they're, y'know, puppies.
In the filming of Puppy Bowl XII, 315 bags were needed to clean up puppy poo. Urine is a little more difficult to catch, so the studio laid down 1,500 training pads on every inch of the floor. A very lucky someone's job is to replace the pads as soon as they've been used.
If a dog happens to defecate on the field, Schachner gets to make a call you won't hear in the actual Super Bowl: "excessive fertilization." Some of Schachner's favorite calls are puns he comes up with from the human game. Neutral zone infraction becomes "neutral bone infraction." Ineligible receiver downfield? Try "ineligible retriever downfield."
But there's no comparable Super Bowl penalty for one of the most common calls in the Puppy Bowl.
"Fornication was outlawed by Animal Planet," Schachner said. "It happens, and we record the penalty, but when it comes time to editing, it doesn't make the cut because it's not family friendly enough. How many different innuendos are there for humping? The list could go on and on."
Peanut butter has proved useful in luring the pups apart — or getting them to do anything, really. Spread some peanut butter on the edge of a camera lens and it's a guaranteed adorable puppy-licking-America's-TV-screens moment.
Animal Planet feels no shame in over-doing the cuteness because it's all for a good cause: The 49 puppies in the Puppy Bowl are all available for adoption in shelters nationwide. Most of them "find their forever home" between the taping (in October) and the game's air date. The hope is that when viewers look online for the Puppy Bowl players, they'll fall in love with other dogs from local shelters. This year's airing will include a special PSA about adopting older canines, which are closest to Schachner's heart. Along with his wife and two sons, he fosters older dogs from a shelter in New York. Dogs stay at his home for a few weeks at a time while the shelter looks to find them homes. It's difficult to say goodbye, he said, but it's only fair to his integrity as the official Puppy Bowl ref.
"You know how Santa Claus never had any children of his own? Like, the children of the world are his kids? That's maybe how it is for the Puppy Bowl referee," Scachner said. "He can't have a dog of his own because it would show too much favoritism to one breed."
Puppy Bowl XII airs at 3 p.m. ET on Animal Planet on Sunday, Feb. 7.
CORRECTION: This post previously misstated the name of the human football call, "neutral zone infraction." Clearly, the writer watches more Puppy Bowl than Superbowl.