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How Puppy Bowl ‘rufferee’ took on the event’s biggest year yet

Dan Schachner has been ruffereeing the Puppy Bowl for 11 years.
Surf gives "ruferee" Dan Schachner a kiss on the chin.
Surf gives "rufferee" Dan Schachner a kiss on the chin.Tony Aviles / Bright Road Productions / Discovery+ / Animal Planet

For the last 11 years, Dan Schachner has been doing what he considers to be one of the greatest jobs in the world.

Refereeing — or ruffereeing — the Puppy Bowl.

"When I first started I thought it was a smallish kind of job," Schachner said ahead of Sunday's 18th annual Puppy Bowl. "I didn't realize how big it was in terms of scope and reach."

And this year was the Puppy Bowl’s biggest yet, he says.

Team Fluff defeated Team Ruff in this year's competition, taking home the Chewy “Lombarky” trophy.

Schachner, a former NFL referee, was the only human to take the field at the game Sunday, which featured 118 adoptable dogs.

The dogs who participated in the Puppy Bowl hailed from 67 shelters and rescues from 33 states. Each year, the dogs who participate in the Puppy Bowl have a 100 percent adoption rate, Schachner said.

Puppy Bowl contestant Brady from The Sato Project is playing for Team Ruff.
Puppy Bowl contestant Brady from the Sato Project was playing for Team Ruff.Elias Weiss Friedman / Discovery+ / Animal Planet

"More important than that, even — the shelters and rescues where the dogs come from report an uptick in adoptions," he said. "So that's what's so cool about it — the spirit of the Puppy Bowl continues even when it's over."

How the competition went down

The rules of the Puppy Bowl are simple: If a pup takes a toy into the opposing team's end zone, it scores a touchdown. The team with the most points at the end wins.

Team Ruff was led by French bulldog Moby, and Team Fluff was led by Dinozzo, a basset hound/Shih Tzu mix breed.

But the game had more than just puppies vying to make names for themselves to get adopted — a few celebrity doggos joined in on the fun.

"We have dogs associated with celebrities like Ariana Grande, guys from the Houston Texans, NFL players and, of course, Martha Stewart's new dogs, not just as hosts but as the coaches of teams Ruff and Fluff," Schachner said.

At the top of the Puppy Bowl, Stewart, who helped coached Team Ruff, and rapper Snoop Dogg, who helped coached team Fluff, introduced the show.

Stewart mentioned that Snoop Dogg would be performing at the Super Bowl halftime show, but first, he would cheer on his team at the Puppy Bowl.

"It’s a dream come true, just like it’s a dream to find these puppies a home, too," Snoop Dogg said of performing at the halftime show.

Before kickoff, "Sesame Street’s" Elmo and his rescue dog, Tango, flipped a coin to see which team would get the ball first. Team Ruff won the coin toss.

Some on social media referred to Elmo’s feud with Rocco the rock from earlier this year, saying he was probably at the Puppy Bowl to ensure people adopted dogs, not pet rocks.

Sportscasters Steve Levy and Taylor Rooks gave the play-by-play commentary on the game.

The pups even got a presidential shout-out from first lady Jill Biden.

"What's so wonderful about having pets is they bring us unconditional love, joy and comfort," Biden said as she watched the games with new White House pup Commander. The moment marked the TV debut for Commander, a German shepherd.

Throughout the game, a recurring segment called “Adoptables” aired. Each featured rescue teams behind the dogs playing in the games.

Schachner said several dogs were noteworthy because they had overcome disabilities to play in the games. Among them, he mentioned Irwin, a three-legged dog from the Sato Project, which rescues dogs from Puerto Rico, and Benny, a wheelchair-using dog from Bosley’s Place in Georgia.

Ellington, left, chases Chorizo on the field.
Ellington, left, chases Chorizo on the field.Tony Aviles / Bright Road Productions / Discovery+ / Animal Planet

While the games are an adorable way to help puppies find their way to new homes, Schachner said the “Adoptables” segments are among his favorite parts of the event.

The segment takes viewers behind the scenes and shows them their real heroes putting in the work to make the Puppy Bowl a success.

Being involved with the Puppy Bowl has inspired Schachner to help dogs looking for their future owners, as well. Over the last decade, the rufferee has fostered more than 35 dogs.

Nothing beats hanging out with dozens of puppies, he said.

"It's made quite an impact on my life. ... It's a ton of fun."