HOUSTON — It is not easy staying humble when you’re guaranteed to become one of the stars of Super Bowl on Sunday, your exploits broadcast for a national audience in the millions and adoring fans fawning over your every move.
But Duke, a 6-month-old Labrador retriever mix, does a pretty good job of not letting the attention go to his head.
“He got the superstar treatment at the Puppy Bowl,” Duke’s owner, Pam Reynolds of Houston, told USA TODAY Sports. “But he is still pretty shy. It hasn’t gone to his head too much.”
Duke was one of the pups invited to take part in this year’s Puppy Bowl, which will be broadcast on Animal Planet at 3 p.m. ET Sunday and, if past editions are any indication, could command a viewership in excess of 10 million. The “game” was actually filmed in October, and Duke was driven from Houston to New York for the occasion, with Team Ruff and Team Fluff squaring off for the right to hoist the Petco “Lombarky” Trophy.
Yet for all the cuteness and personality of the dogs, the event provides a real boost to some of the animal shelters and rescue centers involved in the event, such as Citizens for Animal Protection in Katy, Texas, where Reynolds adopted Duke.
“It is exciting for all of us and the puppies involved, but we are really hoping for a big response in real terms,” said JoAnne Jackson, the center’s director of operations. “There are a lot of animals that need a home, so having the Super Bowl come here, and having Duke in the Puppy Bowl, is huge for us.”
Jackson estimates that up to 100,000 dogs in the greater Houston area are left in need of a home each year, mainly through abandonment, the death of their owner or other factors.
Her organization will bring several adoptable puppies to join other similar programs in Root Square, at the heart of the Super Bowl entertainment sector, during the week leading up to the big game — and the biggest game in the canine world.
The Puppy Bowl has taken on a life of its own since it began in 2005 and, along with elaborate commercials, eating to excess and — oh yes — football, has become an integral part of the game-day experience for millions.
The pets played around in a specially constructed stadium, with points scored any time a dog carried one of the many sports-themed toys into the end zone.
The score is a closely guarded secret, especially with a Puppy Bowl fantasy game (yes, really) having sprung up, and adorable entertainment is guaranteed.
“We are all ready to watch on Sunday,” Reynolds said. “We get to say we live with one of the stars of Super Bowl Sunday.”
Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter @mrogersUSAT.