If the Super Bowl is the biggest game in professional football, the Puppy Bowl is the biggest game in canine athletics. The annual competition returns for its 19th year on Super Bowl Sunday (February 12), when “Team Ruff” and “Team Fluff” will adorably battle it out for the highly coveted “Lombarky” trophy. (Yes, that’s a play on the Vince Lombardi Trophy.)
The Puppy Bowl features an array of breeds, both big and small — from floppy-eared hounds to toy-sized terriers. The first one premiered February 6, 2005, alongside Super Bowl XXXIX between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. Like their human counterparts, the athletic pups huddled, fumbled, and scrambled across a football field, albeit a much smaller “puppy-sized” one.
And the big game celebrates an even bigger cause: The entire program was created to promote animal shelter adoptions, as all the puppy players come from rescue organizations across the country to compete. So the three-hour event is not only highly anticipated entertainment, it also serves as a national call-to-adopt, reaching millions of viewers, or potential adopters, every year.
Unlike the human Super Bowl, though, the Puppy Bowl is not live and is actually shot months in advance. According to a 2016 report from The Washington Post, most of the puppies “find their forever home” between the October taping and the February airing.
This year’s event features a record-breaking 122 puppies from 67 shelters and rescues across 34 states, according to an Animal Planet press release.
Dan Schachner will return for his 12th year as the Puppy Bowl referee. Because the show is prerecorded, most animals find their forever homes by the time it airs. But don’t worry if the dog or cat you fell in love with onscreen has been adopted, Schachner told Vox: “Because they are part of litters, and they will probably have brothers or sisters that you can adopt, even if that one star puppy isn’t there.”
The broadcast will also feature 11 special needs puppies, including Julius, a hard-of-hearing dog from Troy, Virginia, who prepared for the competition with mentor Hank, a deaf dalmatian who played in 2021’s Puppy Bowl, People magazine reported. Also among this group is Stardust, a black and white pup from the Danbury Animal Welfare Society in Bethel, Connecticut. She is an “extremely competitive” one-eyed puppy who “never says no to playing fetch,” per Animal Planet. And Joey, born without front legs, enjoys playing with other special needs puppies.
Luckily, you won’t need to choose which game to watch on Sunday if you’re a fan of both dogs and the NFL — Puppy Bowl XIX will air on Animal Planet on Sunday, February 12 at 2 p.m. ET, and stream on Discovery+. The pre-game show starts at 1 p.m. ET.