Puppy Bowl IV: Great Tacklers, but Can’t Pass

In response to the Super Bowl ratings giant, executives at Animal Planet created a show that has turned out to be a hit in its own right. Puppy Bowl IV is a three-hour extravaganza in which a cast of 46 dogs frolics, chases, pants, sniffs, rolls, tail wags and occasionally picks up a ball (or, more likely, a chew toy) on a set resembling a football field. It is going to be broadcast at 3 p.m. on Sunday, with repeat airings to follow.

And as the show’s viewership has grown, so has the attention lavished on it by animal lovers and sports fans. Puppy Bowl parties are common. Among the stars of this year’s game are Rascal, 13 weeks, a border collie mix; Mrs. Roper, 9 weeks, a Labrador retriever mix; and Bruin, 14 weeks, an Alaskan malamute. No more than eight puppies hit the gridiron at once, but the show is in high definition this year. Many of the animals come from shelters; part of the show’s mission is to promote adoption via Petfinder.com. Recruiting players is not a challenge.

Though there are no teams or uniforms, the show follows many football conventions. This year’s game begins with the national anthem; the puppies watch the flag wave with due seriousness, if no paws over hearts. There is commentary, by Harry Kalas, the legendary N.F.L. and Phillies broadcaster, who in this case says things like: “He’s at the 20, he’s at the 30! O.K., now he’s back at the 20, the 10.” There are M.V.P. and viewer’s choice awards. And there is a referee to call the action, such as it is, and deal with what the show refers to as puppy fouls. He cleans them up, on camera but without close-ups.

Taped over two days, the show has a production crew of about 30 people, as well as dog and cat owners, an animal handler, a veterinarian and a representative of the American Humane association to oversee it. The puppies are running around, playing with squeak toys and mock footballs. Whether they realize it or not, some of them actually do make touchdowns.

Puppy Bowl IV

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