New York — The furry, fleet-footed pawthletes of Kitten Bowl IV didn’t exactly have the plays down Wednesday at the taping of the annual cuteness fest that airs on the Hallmark Channel each Super Bowl Sunday.
Chaos ensued, but it was all good as cameras rolled on a Midtown soundstage, with Beth Stern deftly juggling a few frisky critters during interviews promoting the event.
Stern, the wife of radio jock Howard Stern, is the big-hearted cat ambassador who works all year round with North Shore Animal League of America, urging people to spay, neuter and release and adopt some pets.
One of her on-camera companions, a little player with black fur, was more interested in mussing up her perfect blond hair than talking pre-bowl ball.
“The friskier the better,” Stern said as she juggled the four-footed baller. “He loves me. They all love me. Who are we kidding?”
Meanwhile, NFL all-star Boomer Esiason, also known as the “comish” of the Feline Football League, was having some trouble of his own. With the cat puns flying as he shot promos on set, the word “meowment,” as in, “We’ll be back in a meowment,” wasn’t going to happen.
You try saying that three times fast!
Also having a bit of a day, along with good fun, was NBC sportscaster Mary Carillo, a returnee to help call the big game despite a cat allergy that had her itching and reaching for hand sanitizer.
“There’s no other sport that I cover that I need to do this 472 times a day,” she laughed. “I’m a sport, but I love it. It’s my favorite of all the sports, watching kittens play because they don’t treat it like a sport. They treat it like a game, and they often don’t really seem to treat it like anything. They’re just hugely distracted by all of us.”
What about the rule book? “Oh yeah, I’d like to see that rule book,” Carillo said. “The rules for kittens are fuzzy. They seem not to have cracked open any of the rule books.”
Stern is an old pro. This is her fourth Kitten Bowl.
“We’ve got some fun additions to make it a little different but it’s just a hundred cats and kittens here ultimately are going to find loving homes at the end of this and that’s really what this is all about,” she said.
During halftime, watch for a “Cirque du Paw-leil” play on the theatric acrobatic shows usually performed by humans. And — gasp — a puppy band, complete with bite-size instruments and little hats.
The Sterns are big-time foster parents to homeless kittens — more than 300 in all over the last couple of years. Howard is the official name-giver of their temporary charges, and Beth is the hunter of permanent homes, but letting go isn’t easy.
“It’s the hardest thing in the world,” she said. “I think I’ve cried over 300 times. My husband gets so emotionally attached as well.”
Is Beth on board with Howard’s name choices? Absolutely, including a little dude named Downey who is among seven fosters they’re currently caring for.
“Robert Downey Jr. was over at our house and named this particular crew, so Howard was there approving the names that Robert Downey Jr. gave to this particular litter,” Stern said.
Among the other names Downey picked: Chaplin, as in the silent screen comedian he portrayed in a movie of the same name.
They have six permanent feline residents as well, including the recent adoption of a blind cat.
Esiason, also on his fourth Kitten Bowl, is more than a mere commissioner. He’s a team owner as well, fielding a new crew of Boomer’s Bobcats. Can they go all the way? If they stay away from the ‘nip, he said.
“Gotta stay away from the catnip,” he deadpanned. “I’ve told my little kittens that if I catch anybody lookin’ for the catnip, they’ll be sitting on the bench.
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