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20 years of the Puppy Bowl

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Today it's the big game. Millions of viewers will tune in to watch players give it their all for a chance to win the championship and maybe get a treat or a belly rub, too. That's right. We are talking about the Puppy Bowl.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: It's Falcor with the spiky ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Touchdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIR HORN)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Touchdown, Team Ruff.

DETROW: The adorable alternative to the Super Bowl is marking its 20th anniversary this year. It has grown to be a fan favorite. Last year, more than 13 million viewers tuned in to watch Team Ruff and Team Fluff go head-to-head. The Puppy Bowl loosely follows the basic gameplay of football. There are rules and points and penalties, and they are strictly enforced by Dan Schachner, the Puppy Bowl's referee since 2012. Dan, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DAN SCHACHNER: Thank you for having me, Scott.

DETROW: First of all, I want to know how you got this job because it seems like a great job.

SCHACHNER: (Laughter) There's no blueprint for this job, is there?

DETROW: No.

SCHACHNER: I had hosted a variety of programs for Animal Planet, which was the - you know, the network it all started on. And they needed somebody who could not just call the game, but also become a spokesperson because the show was growing. So they needed somebody to sort of speak for these dogs that don't have a voice of their own and get the word out about their shelters, about the fact that they're all up for adoption and promote the show. So I put together an audition video, just filmed myself officiating random dogs in New York City dog parks and cobbled it together. And somehow, they bought it, and here I am 13 years later. It's the gig of a lifetime.

DETROW: For the three or four people listening who have not had the pleasure of watching the Puppy Bowl, can you explain what - when we talk about rules, what do we need to know? And also, you mentioned these dogs are up for adoption. How do the dogs make their way to our TVs? Like, what's the process here?

SCHACHNER: On the team bus, first of all - that's how they get to the stadium. They get drafted. They go through a combine and a skills test. Now basically, we try to mirror human football, except for the fact that our rules - to your initial question - are quite loose and simple. It is a four-quarter football game. Smaller breeds are in the first quarter, and we work our way up to the larger baby Great Danes in the fourth quarter. They are divided into two teams, Team Ruff and Team Fluff, and at the end we crown a winner. They receive the coveted Lombarky Trophy. And we also give an award to MVP, most valuable pup. And because we're the Puppy Bowl and we celebrate all kinds of dogs, we also celebrate the worst performing dog by giving them the underdog award - perhaps a dog that sat on the sidelines and slept the entire game but is still adorable. They will also receive an accolade.

DETROW: Yeah. You know, in the two-week lead up to the Super Bowl, everyone's always going through historic highlight reels, greatest moments, top five, top 10, whatever. What to you or some of the more iconic Puppy Bowl moments of your tenure?

SCHACHNER: I can say my very first Puppy Bowl, I experienced a first, which is in Puppy Bowl VII - that's when I first started - we saw the first ever double touchdown. Two dogs, Augusta and Funzie (ph) - they each were holding two separate balls, went into the end zone at the exact same time. That had never been seen before - unprecedented. We conferred with our judges, and everyone agreed we would count both touchdowns. Last year, first time ever, two teams were tied at the end of regulation, so we had to go into our first ever overtime. We called it Rover Time, and Team Fluff edged out with a victory. So there is a - literally there are first - several firsts every single year. The show continues to surprise us. And we can't wait for people to tune in on Sunday.

DETROW: I love that you talk about it like the cutting edge of athletics. Like, somebody breaks a barrier for the very first time, it's a big deal - like, the four-minute mile. And then it just becomes commonplace once somebody goes first.

SCHACHNER: Yes, exactly. We reward everything.

DETROW: Dan Schachner is the referee of the Puppy Bowl. Thank you so much for talking to us.

SCHACHNER: Thanks for having us. Take care, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO LET THE DOGS OUT")

BAHA MEN: (Singing) Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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