NEW YORK (AP) – On the field, the four-legged fur balls of the Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl III were all business.
But off? Well, let’s just say there were some impurr-prieties dogging these feline paw-thletes.
“Sometimes we get into an issue or two. They tend to like to really delve into the catnip, and that type of thing sometimes gets a little out of control,” quipped Boomer Esiason, the Feline Football League commissioner for the Super Bowl Sunday event on Feb. 7.
It was Esiason’s second turn as commissioner. He kept his tongue firmly in cheek in fending off any appearance of influence peddling this time around with the fielding of his own team of kittens, the Boomer Bobcats.
“I’m not like that. I’m above all of that, and my quarterback Ben Roethlis-purrger – we like to call him Big Ben – is just so cute and cuddly. I’m telling you he’s going to knock everybody’s socks off this year.”
Big Ben’s human doppelganger being Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
In addition to Esiason, Hallmark got some help from host Beth Stern and the North Shore Animal League America, which supplied nearly 100 rescue kittens to fill up Hallmark’s bite-size football field. It was decked out with scratchy goalposts and plenty of cat toys to keep the action moving when the event was taped in October.
All of the tiny footballers were later adopted. A few were taken home for fostering by Stern herself. Her husband, Howard Stern, is the official cat namer of their family that includes six resident felines and a steady stream of fosters.
Beth Stern, a spokeswoman for North Shore Animal League, is the master of the cat-human selfie on Instagram. Her secret?
“With the selfie I have to look good, of course, so I always have to put the iPhone up high. But I can never get a bad angle of the kittens,” she said.
Human wranglers ringed the elevated Kitten Bowl set, sending little slackers trying to escape back on the field. Hydration came in metal water bowls on the sidelines, along with a couple of handy litter boxes.
Esiason, an NFL most valuable player and four-time Pro Bowl quarterback, was happy to help out worthy kittens, but back home it’s all about the dogs. He has two, to be exact. He used to have a cat, a Himalayan with bright blue eyes called Frankie, named for his college roommate.
He said he’s got nothing but love for the adorable, feisty participants in the Kitten Bowl.
“The kitten players,” Esiason offered, “are so much easier to deal with than human players.”