PHOENIX (Reuters) - As dozens of fans cheered, the players tussled over the ball as they neared the end-zone then began rolling around and biting each other on the neck, the chance of a touchdown forgotten.
While some NFL stars’ off-field antics made headlines ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, none are known to have chewed on each other.
But Thursday’s “players” in downtown Phoenix were all puppies - part of a drive by the Animal Planet television channel and the Arizona Humane Society to encourage adoptions before the televised “Puppy Bowl” that will air on game day.
“Everybody loves a puppy. The amount of attention that we’ve got has been fantastic,” Chris Finnegan, a senior vice president at Animal Planet, told Reuters on the sidelines.
“People just can’t get enough. They’re so sweet. They’re so cute, and we’re excited because it’s getting the word out about animal adoptions.”
Twenty-five pups are on display each day this week outside a Phoenix cafe where a fake football field has been set up and spectators gather to coo as the dogs cavort and gambol.
A black-and-white shirted “referee” kept a score, of sorts, and Team Fluff was soon beating Team Ruff by two goals to zip.
“That’s a flag! That’s unnecessary roughness, plus it’s embarrassing because you’re on the same side!” said the referee, blowing his whistle as onlookers laughed.
All the puppies on show at the cafe will be available for adoption from the Arizona Humane Society beginning Sunday. Animal Planet says it will cover part of the cost of adoptions.
Debbie Mykitiak, who works for an Arizona animal charity called Rescue, was among the crowd watching on Thursday.
“I came down to see the puppies, and the live Puppy Bowl, and in the hope that all of these little guys will have homes by Sunday afternoon,” she said, as play was delayed while one furry Labrador took a bathroom break on the 30-yard line.
The eleventh annual Puppy Bowl will be screened on Animal Planet at 3 p.m. EST on Sunday.
Fans can visit the TV channel’s website to view a live camera from the Puppy Bowl locker room, and even pick their own canine “fantasy league” team to root for during the game.
Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Sandra Maler