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January 31, 2013

Puppy Bowl and the growth of online cute

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

"It sounds silly to even say this out loud, but it's so hard to break into cute these days," says Suriel. "There are so many — between Maru and Boo and all these animal celebrities, it's crazy."

Cutebloggers and Animal Planet have developed an unspoken symbiotic relationship, where they rely on each other for material and publicity. Buzzfeed, whose wheelhouse is lists like "The 30 Most Important Cats of 2012," sent two editors and a video producer to this year's Puppy Bowl taping.

"You can just point your camera in any direction and it's going to produce a squeal-inducing photo," said Gavon Laessig, Buzzfeed's news editor. "We both realize that we are doing each other a favor with this coverage."

The Internet has eaten cute like kibble ever since the first set of paws hit the Puppy Bowl AstroTurf.

"People take it more seriously than any of us do," said Dan Schachner, who plays the referee. "I've gotten tweets from fans who were like, 'No, that wasn't technically a holding call, or a face mask — he didn't put the paws on that puppy's snout.' "

Of course, the calls and the rules and the playbooks are all a big joke. No matter who you cheer for in the Puppy Bowl, puppies always win.

"If you had to really write it down, the only hard-and-fast rule is that the chew toy needs to be dragged into the end zone," says Schachner. "That's it. It doesn't matter what direction. It doesn't matter how it's dragged there. It could even be by accident. That's a touchdown."

Still, Schachner takes his role quite seriously. To prepare, he watches YouTube videos of animals playing sports. He comes up with one-liners for new penalties, like "Illegal retriever downfield." (Sorry, goldens.) He refers to the day's other game as "human football."

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