At the Puppy Bowl, extra points for being a very good boy

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NEW YORK - It is frowned upon when National Football League (NFL) players complain to the referees. But at least they do not urinate on them.

The same cannot be said for the competitors in the Puppy Bowl, Animal Planet’s canine football game that takes place in October but did not air until the afternoon of Super Bowl on Feb 11.

The event’s referee, Dan Schachner, stays ready for all eventualities by keeping five identical uniforms in his dressing room so he can change when accidents occur. The 49-year-old admits growing lax about handing out penalties for “premature watering of the lawn” since he began calling the game in 2011. “I don’t automatically reach for the flag,” he said. “We have a game to play.”

This year’s Puppy Bowl, which was televised at 2pm Eastern time on Feb 11 (2am, Feb 12, Singapore time), was the 20th edition of the event, a milestone for a programme that began as a tongue-in-cheek feed of puppy playtime before evolving into a counter-programming juggernaut.

The three-hour skirmish over a football-shaped chew toy has been on the air in the United States for longer than Grey’s Anatomy. Animal Planet said last year’s Puppy Bowl “reached” more than 13 million viewers.

In this year’s edition, Team Ruff upset reigning champions Team Fluff 72-69 to take home the Lombarky Trophy. Moosh, an Australian Shepherd mix who forced a key turnover, was awarded Most Valuable Player.

The event’s sustained success has come with unique production challenges. The players cannot throw because they lack opposable thumbs. They fall asleep at the 20-yard line, and sometimes they try to bathe in the water bowl. They are especially bad at determining when to go for a two-point conversion.

It takes more than 100 crew members and 200 poop bags to coax the puppies into some semblance of a football game. “The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade requires just as much coordination,” said Howard Lee, the president of Discovery Networks, which owns Animal Planet.

In an interview, he described the programme as a call for...

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