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Puppy Bowl VIII: the biggest little game of the year

By in Sports & Health
Chihuahua-terrier mix Fumble receives a warning from the ref.
This Sunday marks another year of high stakes collision on the gridiron with two staunch rivals leaving it all on the field. In the grand tradition of organized football, the two best teams in the league will take the field, and play their hearts out to prove once and for all who is top dog.

The eighth annual Puppy Bowl kicks off Sunday Feb. 5 on Animal Planet and it promises to be just as heated, intense and confusing as the previous years. There aren’t many rules to the Puppy Bowl, but it involves 10 adorable puppies at a time taking to a miniature football field with the hopes of dragging a chew-toy across the goal line — or falling asleep.

The scoring may be arbitrary, the players devoid of any sort of team spirit — or for that matter, a team — and the strategy completely inscrutable, but one can’t argue with the sheer pluck and heart exhibited by the athletes.

Fans of the sport are familiar with the event’s usual components and this year’s broadcast will revisit all of the fan favourites of years past. The hamster blimp crew will be back, providing a bird’s eye view of the action from high above puppy stadium, while the customary kitten half-time show will return in a blaze of confusion and bewilderment.

New features to the broadcast have also been introduced, including a piglet cheer crew that will root the players on from the sidelines. And, not to be left behind by new media, the network has employed a bird named Meep to live-tweet the event. Meep’s involvement finally brings this archaic sport screaming into the modern era.

While the NFL is abuzz with talk of the rematch between rival quarterbacks Tom Brady and Eli Manning, the Puppy Bowl has its own share of heated conflict.

Augusta (right) hangs back in the safety position.

Take for example Aberdeen and Abilene, two Australian shepherd mix breeds who both hail from the SPCA of Sullivan County, NY. These two came up together in Rock Hill, NY, both striving to one-up the other from the time they were born 10 weeks ago. Their rivalry has been bitter and fans can expect the same level of competition on the field that has become so commonplace in the kennel. Neither of these two are above playing a little dirty and, in the absence of an attentive referee, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect some ear biting or after-the-whistle tackles.

The big news on the field, however, is the two rookie players who are making their Puppy Bowl debuts. Fumble, a Chihuahua-terrier mix and Hunter, a boxer pup, both only nine weeks old, will take to the field and try to prove their worth in an arena full of players that, in some cases, have over six-and-a-half weeks of experience on them. Only game day will tell how these two untested rookies will fare on the field; will they rise to the occasion and give their older competitors a run for their money, or give in to the pressure and totally shit the field?

The trend this year is toward smaller, quicker players, which could mean that this will be the most fast-paced year in the event’s history: Chihuahua-terrier mixes facing off against dachshunds in a high-tempo frenzy. While some analysts defend the league’s move to smaller, faster breeds, purists in the fanbase have already begun vocally pining for the good old days, such as in Puppy Bowl VI when Kiva, an 11-week-old Alaskan malamute held the entire offensive line and led his team to a decisive victory.

This year’s halftime show will be just as scandalous as ever.

Of course, as in the human sports organizations, there has also been a recent controversy surrounding the health and well-being of the players in the canine league, which could explain the shift away from violent clashes of large players. New discoveries in the link between trauma suffered by pro-athletes and health problems later in life have hit the puppy league just as hard as the NFL and NHL.

Forced to retire by a medical advisory at the young age of two and a half, the now three-year-old Kiva’s feelings are understandably complex. A source close to the former puppy explained that though he has fond memories of the way the game used to be played, he sympathizes with the toll that puppy football can take on a player and realizes the need for change.

[box type=”info”]Puppy Bowl VIII airs at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 5 on Animal Planet. [/box]

Photos: Animal Planet

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