Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

They Play To Win The Game

Last week, Animal Planet announced the rosters for Puppy Bowl VIII, the annual canine celebration of unmotivated running in circles and dead serious butt-sniffery that represents the best and most successful bit of Super Bowl counter-programming on record. While the VIII'th iteration of the Puppy Bowl will stick to the format fans came to know through the first VII—smallish dogs with their tongues hanging out, tear-assing around a small field aimlessly and excitedly—Animal Planet also added some new elements this year, including a new human referee. This week saw the public announcement of another new twist: the addition of veteran NFL coaches to the mix. We were there at the press conference. At Animal Planet's request, we've embargoed the coaches' identity and redacted the questions.


A: Same way you'd prepare for any important game, really. You hear a lot of things—oh, spaniels are uncoachable, or some of your terriers are not good with other dogs. But I came in trying to assess these young dogs for their playfulness, energy, performance. Not, you know, fall back on the clichés. "Oh, Maltese is a difficult breed" or what have you. It's garbage. So we use that for motivation. I tell them, you know: they're saying you're tough to train, you shed a lot. Fine. Don't just yip about it. Go out there and show them.


A: I see it like this: I'm here to provide leadership. Look, Animal Planet doesn't need to bring in some old guy like me to tell puppies how to play, okay? All puppies know how to play, all puppies are playful. My job as coach is to come in here and get them to play the right way.


A: I figured you guys would ask that. (Laughter) Simple answer is of course I'd love to be coaching in the Super Bowl. But I've got a job to do here, too. I'm telling my team, look, we can't worry what's on the other channels, who's watching who do what, none of that. Come February 5, we're on the channel we're on, we're playing in the Puppy Bowl, and that's our first order of business.


A: Sorry to cut you off, but I don't call them that. You guys can call them whatever you want, but I don't call them that.


A: That was, when I said "puppies" earlier I was referring to younger dogs in general. Those are puppies, that's what you would call the technical term for it. But I call my guys "young dogs," not puppies. I see them every day, how hard they play, how much they play. These aren't puppies, to me. A puppy's going to gnaw on your slippers, okay, or just kind of trot around. Climb up on the couch and grab a nap, eat a cigarette butt or whatever he finds out there on the sidewalk. That's puppy stuff, okay, and my guys will do that, too. But it's about how they do it. I look at my team and I don't see puppies, I see playful young dogs, period. You can call them what you want, but that's what I see.


A: Well, for me that meant watching a lot of tape. The good news is there's a lot of tape out there. YouTube and the like. Very helpful. So I spent a lot of time watching tape on Corgis, for instance. Very energetic, very vocal, what I guess you'd call comically short legs, so not necessarily all that great with going up or down stairs. There's a video of a Corgi that—and this has millions of views, okay, so it's not exactly news—was really helpful to me in just answering the question, "How good are Corgis at jumping into a lake?" And the answer is "not very," and so that's reflected in the game plan, which isn't giving too much away because there's not a lake on the field. That's just a for-instance. But there's a ton of tape on all of them. You just need to know what to look for.


A: Absolutely, absolutely. Animal Planet runs a tight ship, really scouts well, so there's talent all through the roster. The key for me, my job is making the game plan fit the talent. To give you another for-instance, one of my guys is named Baskin. Fine young dog, loves to play, pretty much there in terms of housetraining. But we're talking about a Jack Russell/Pug mix, which means there's certain things I can expect Baskin to do and certain things I can't. So am I going to ask him not to, say, make on the carpet? Yes, because I think that's fair to expect of him. But am I going to ask him, to give you another for-instance, to play the way Gracie plays? No, I'm not, because Gracie's a Chihuahua/Dachsund mix. That's just knowing your personnel.


A: To a certain extent, yes. These are dogs. To a great degree, and I hate to keep using him as an example, Baskin is only ever really going to understand the world through his nose. And that, you know, that's not on him, and it takes nothing away from how hard he's played for me. Everything you hear about Jack Russell Terriers and more, with Baskin. Terrific breed, terrific young dog.


A: Of course. Coach Billick's going to have his side ready, so we'd better be, too. If we go out there and get our squeezy toys taken from us, that'll be on us, but it's not going to be because we haven't prepared enough, I promise you that.


A: Funny you ask. The answer is no. I'm allergic.

Related: Brief Interviews With Hideous Football Players

David Roth writes "The Mercy Rule" column at Vice, co-writes the Wall Street Journal's Daily Fix,, and is one of the founders of The Classical. He also has his own little website. And he tweets inanities! Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.

8 Comments / Post A Comment

bitzyboozer (#6,867)

Oh god, this is going to be such a sad comment, but: actually the human referee isn't a new twist. The article is just announcing that there is a new person filling the role of human referee. Yes, I am a Puppy Bowl aficionado and I'm only mildly ashamed to admit it.

David Roth (#4,429)

@bitzyboozer Aw man. I regret the error, although if I'm being honest I am also a little bit amused by it. Carrie is fixing it, and thanks for pointing it out.

keisertroll (#1,117)

I'll be pleased if Mike Martz retired for this.

@keisertroll So we can expect mediocre things from the Puppy Bowl offense?

I'm guessing Jimmy Johnson. Mostly because of the grooming synergy.

This is amazing! But I too – without shame – must note that the human referee has been around for a minute. Arguably necessary from a logistical standpoint, but I can't help but feel that it detracts from the purity of the game.

The Puppy Channel(R) loves The Puppy Bowl! And we thank the cool folks at Animal Planet and Discovery for bringing our kind of fun to millions every Super Sunday! If you need to see lots more of carefully selected puppy love video between Puppy Bowl broadcasts, you can find plenty 24/7/365 at

—Woof !—

Brunhilde (#1,225)

No opinions on this years selection of participants in the Kitty Halftime Show?

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