Dan Schachner on what it’s like to be the ref at the Puppy Bowl

Sch Credit: Courtesy of Animal Planet
Schachner is ref’ing for the third year.
Credit: Courtesy of Animal Planet

Dan Schachner is going to have a far better Super Bowl Sunday than you. But don’t feel too bad — he’s also going to have a far better Super Bowl Sunday than John Elway or Peyton Manning ever could.

Schachner is refereeing the one and only Puppy Bowl.

“It’s really my job to decide what’s the most egregious foul — you have to pick your battles,” says Schachner, now in his third year of officiating Animal Planet’s much-anticipated fluff ball throw down. “We will not tolerate napping on the sidelines. We will not tolerate peeing on the field. Intentional growling, that’s a big one.”

For the uninitiated, the Puppy Bowl is exactly what it sounds like, and yet not at all what anything sounds like. More of a romp than a competition, the annual telecast features adoptable pups tumbling across a mini football field, occasionally stopping to chew on each other’s ears or sneak snuggles. “It’s every pup for himself,” admits Schachner. “You can’t organize puppies into teams — at least I haven’t figured it out.”

Almost as important is the supporting cast, and this year Animal Planet brought in some serious talent to celebrate the bowl’s 10th year. In addition to penguin cheerleaders and a hamster-piloted blimp, Internet celeb Keyboard Cat will provide halftime entertainment, while Lil Bub has been tapped for commentary.

That’s not to say the Puppy Bowl is strictly fun and games. There is, after all, a title at stake. “The Most Valuable Puppy, maybe he didn’t even score,” says Schachner of the afternoon’s official winner. “But he’s the puppy who showed the most spunk — who was the best puppy he could be.”

Meows in the mix

This year, the Hallmark Channel will debut the Kitten Bowl (premieres Sunday, Feb. 2, noon). And while it’s essentially exactly the same premise as the Puppy Bowl — balls of fluff tumbling over each other with a side helping of cutesy puns — Schachner welcomes the company. “You can never have enough adoption awareness out there,” he says of his feline competition, which benefits two no-kill shelters. “Next year, let’s do a Fish Bowl — we can do the entire animal kingdom.”

By the numbers

Number of viewers who “awww!”-ed their way through the Puppy Bowl last year

Number of adoptable pups who will be competing this year

It’s a dog’s life

A professional actor and TV host, Schachner went on quite the campaign to land the Animal Planet gig. Casting both his children and neighborhood pups in makeshift scrimmages, he submitted audition videos showing off his officiating skills. “It’s one of those jobs that you dream about,” he admits.

Tune in

Puppy Bowl X premieres Sunday, Feb. 2, 3-5 p.m. on Animal Planet. If you miss it, there will be six repeat airings, each with new fluffy content.


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