"I predict the fur is going to fly."Emma Span via SportsOnEarth.com
John Sterling, famed Yankees sportscaster, was recently in a midtown studio to record his lines for the Kitten Bowl, the Hallmark Channel's new counterprogramming to the Super Bowl (and to Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl, which features a Kitty Halftime Show). "This is a very unusual day," Sterling says before his second day of taping begins. "I've never done anything like this before, and I've done everything." Across the large room, 20-plus kittens frolic, play-fight, nap, rest and occasionally fall asleep in the litter box on the field of Kitten Stadium, a miniaturized football arena designed just for them. The three-hour show will be edited out of many hours of footage from a three-day shoot.
More: Who has the most loyal fanbase? »
The playoffsCourtesy of the Hallmark Channel
The Kitten Bowl is really more of a Kitten Playoffs. There are four kitten football teams, who by the time editing is complete will have "played," sort of, two qualifying games and then a championship, for a kibble-filled trophy. Every few minutes they'll lose a player when he or she climbs the goalposts, leaps into the upper deck and walks on the crowd, requiring gentle retrieval by one of the shelter volunteers.
More: When logos go wrong »
The rulesEmma Span via SportsOnEarth.com
Each of the teams has a similar scouting report: great speed and agility; an aggressive, physical style of play; an almost total lack of discipline; prone to silly penalties and to attacking the ref because he wears a dangling, shiny whistle; no passing game to speak of. Occasionally a referee comes to pet them and also call them for delay of game or "unkittenlike conduct."
Content continues below ad
The puns!Courtesy of the Hallmark Channel
In addition to being essentially heaven for cat lovers, the Kitten Bowl is also a bounty for pun enthusiasts. This makes it something of a perfect match for John Sterling, the Yankees sportscaster, who's famous for his personalized wordplay-based home run calls. Sterling plans on using phrases like "'You're cat-atonic,' or 'It's a cat-astrophe!' Like that. Almost everything is a play on words," he says. Kitten Bowl names (or more accurately, screen names), in addition to Terry Bradclaw, include Feline Manning, Lane Kitten, Feral Owens, Drew Breeds, Tomcat Brady, Mike Kitka, Tabby Romo and Troy Paw-lamalu.
More: What not to say in a sports bar »
The tail-gatingEmma Span via SportsOnEarth.com
"Isn't that field unbelievable they put together?" Sterling asks. "And another thing I love is, just like in stadiums where they use every available inch for advertising—it is a business—what they've done, to make the stadium look like a stadium, is they've put up little promos."
Information about the cost of premium field-level seats at Kitten Stadium was not available, but attendance seemed strong, at least going by the kitten tailgate in full swing in another corner of the studio, with tiny cardboard cars and toy barbeques.
More: Rating the big league ballparks »
The scoreCourtesy of the Hallmark Channel
There are 70 kittens on set; all are adoptable strays from the North Shore Animal League. If one of them drags a toy football into an end zone, that's a touchdown, though good luck explaining that to the participants—never mind the idea of extra points via getting a toy through the uprights. (Extra points can also be awarded for "cuteness," which seems a far more promising strategy for these teams. "It's very biased," admitted one crew member.)
More: Are hockey fans the greatest in the world? »
Content continues below ad
The causeCourtesy of the Hallmark Channel
The project is for a good cause, as well as good ratings. It's part of Hallmark's Pet Project, which supports humane treatment of animals and pet adoption.
If there's one thing that seems to have taken Sterling aback, it's the interest that his newest announcing job has generated.
"I can't believe the attention it's gotten," he says. "I went to my gas station-coffee-newspaper place, and this fellow who I know well, another Yankees fan, he said, 'Oh, you're doing the Kitten Bowl? It's purrrrfect!'"
More: The most tortured fans in baseball »