Relive Animal Planet’s First Puppy Bowl From 2005 — Back When It Was All About the GAME, Man!
Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, which is one of, if not the, first — and certainly the cutest — Super Bowl Sunday counter-programming stunts, has reached its “XX” installment already: The 20th Puppy Bowl airs on Animal Planet Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024.
Having a high Roman numeral in its title and airing on the same day is not the only thing the Puppy Bowl has in common with the Super Bowl. Both events started relatively small, then over their histories began to grow in popularity and cultural impact, adding various colorful elements and corporate sponsorships to their productions and becoming bigger and highly anticipated spectacles that are now firmly fixed in the pop-culture landscape.
I still enjoy catching the Puppy Bowl, and I can see how and why it has grown into what it is now, but I also fondly remember the very first Puppy Bowl, which aired Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005.
I was glad to find a video of the Puppy Bowl I broadcast recently and have it trigger more memories of what I enjoyed about it beyond what I already recalled. That video is just below.
(This video is just over an hour and a half, so I’m not sure if it represents the entire broadcast, which I thought was originally three hours. But it gives a good sense of the overall event.)
As you can see, the initial P-Bowl presentation was a quieter, almost Zen-like and ambient production compared with what the event has become. For the most part, it literally just had 22 dogs running around on a field, with some calming yet fun music in the background.
Aside from thinking the program was very cute, I also remember finding it relaxing enough to just have on in the background and doze off to as Animal Planet re-aired it a few times into Sunday evening, something as similarly cozy and comfy as a televised Yule Log at Christmastime.
Puppy Bowl I had an overall announcer who introduced the event and the “players,” like Itsy in the photo below, the first pup to be announced in a Puppy Bowl lineup:
That announcer was famed sportscaster Harry Kalas, who served this role for the first five Puppy Bowls before his passing in 2009 at age 73. Puppy Bowl VI in 2010 was dedicated to his memory.
Kalas did a great job, with his voice managing to somehow be calmly exciting. His announcing was not overdone or distracting; he would chime in occasionally during the broadcast to introduce more pups, or to send the production off to commercials and then welcome viewers back following the ads.
Beyond that, what was nice about the Puppy Bowl I broadcast was the lack of a play-by-play announcer speaking over the action; the program was just puppies playing on a football field, something I and many others could (and did) watch for hours on end with great enjoyment.
The 'Cow Dog Song' accompanied a short film about a hard-workin' herding dog that aired on Sesame Street in the '70s and had a catchy refrain that surely remains in many Gen Xers' brains.
And the pups weren’t playing at some pretend football game with a score being kept every time one of the dogs happened to unwittingly cross the goal line. These puppies were playing at whatever they felt like, whether it was chasing each other, wrasslin’ and rough-housin’, chewing on a toy, jumping into the water bowl or just laying down and taking a few plays off if they wanted. It was a great blood pressure-lowering broadcast and an ideal thing to at least temporary flip over to and away from the crazy hype of the Super Bowl broadcast.
Puppy Bowl I had a few elements that have been retained over the subsequent installments, including one of my favorites, the Water Bowl Cam. (As you can see in the photo below, one thing that has remained consistent from the start is that the Puppy Bowl players generally prefer to splash around in that water bowl rather than drink from it.)
There was a referee in the first Puppy Bowl, but I don’t think it was that guy who has taken on the role and become somewhat of a fan-favorite in his own right in recent years. I have to say, this current Puppy Bowl referee sometimes pops up too much for my taste; he reminds me of certain NFL refs who think people are tuning in to a game just to watch them.
The Puppy Bowl I referee was all business; he only came out very occasionally to call certain fouls (and mostly to clean up pee and poop).
There weren’t too many behavioral fouls called on the players in Puppy Bowl I; back in the day, they let these puppies play. You see the participants just play through tripping, slipping, pushing, jumping on backs, butt-biting, a lot of smack-talk being barked, etc.
I wonder if this first crop of Puppy Bowl athletes, like their NFL counterparts, would sometimes tune in to later Puppy Bowls over the years, see the changes, shake their heads and wonder, “What happened to the game I loved, man?” (I am trying hard to not think too much about the sad and likely fact that each of these 2005 competitors, even the smallest of breeds, has passed on at some point during the past 19 years. 😢)
As an aside, another interesting thing about watching this first Puppy Bowl broadcast is getting a perspective of where Animal Planet was as a network at the time. While it was nearly a decade old in 2005, the channel must have still been growing, because occasionally some text will pop up onscreen inviting viewers to “log onto discovery.com and click on Animal Planet.”
So it sounds like Animal Planet may have had a sub-section on the main Discovery Channel site at that point, and perhaps not its own website yet. But Puppy Bowl would certainly go on to become a continuing factor in the network’s success and its ability to branch off fully from its mother network.
Getting back to the P-Bowl itself, while there were some similarities to more recent productions, much of what we now know and expect from this event was nowhere to be seen in the initial broadcast.
First, it was just as billed: straight-up puppies. No Kitty Halftime Show (though it wasn’t long for that to arrive; it started with Puppy Bowl II in 2006); no bird tweeting the action on Twitter (which wasn’t even around then); no hamsters, hedgehogs, bunnies, or other animals.
There were also no set “teams,” and “touchdowns” or scorekeeping (having Team Ruff vs. Team Fluff, and keeping score and declaring a “winner,” seems to have started with Puppy Bowl XI in 2015). There was an MVP named at the end of Puppy Bowl I: a Jack Russell terrier named Max.
Also, from what I could see, there were no corporate sponsors like vacuum cleaner brands or whatever, and none of other frills that have come along or might be in store for the event in its next two decades.
Like the Super Bowl, I get why the changes and expansions to Puppy Bowl have taken place, especially the widening of its audience by bringing in people who also love cats and other pets.
In the last several years, the event has also increasingly been bringing attention to special-needs pups that need forever homes; that is certainly a positive addition.
Added elements like these and others have helped solidify Puppy Bowl as an event that so many, myself included, enjoy today, especially since there is one thing that has not changed: the puppies’ (and now, the kitties and other creatures’) cuteness and energetic behavior.
But, again as with the Super Bowl, it can be fun to look back at Puppy Bowl’s somewhat humbler, smaller and quieter beginnings, and to remember Itsy, Belle, Reecy, Dakota, Roxi, Missy, Kennedy, Hooter, Bandit, Zuzu, Kira, Maxie, Amos, Max and the other Puppy Bowl I players who paved the way for all the P-Bowls to come.