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Comedian Whitney Cummings takes rescue puppies through agility tests to compete in the “Puppy Bowl,” Animal Planet’s annual Super Bowl event.

USA TODAY

Not even a global pandemic can stop teams Ruff and Fluff. 

On Super Bowl Sunday, nearly six dozen mischievous mutts will hit the field for the 17th annual “Puppy Bowl” on the new Discovery+ streaming service and Animal Planet (2 EST/11 PST), which drafts pint-sized pooches for a playful “game” of football. Photos of the starting lineup are premiering exclusively on usatoday.com. 

Despite production shutdowns across Hollywood amid COVID-19 safety concerns, Animal Planet still managed to pull off a fur-filled event even bigger than before. 

Typically taped on a cozy Manhattan soundstage in early October, this year’s “Puppy Bowl” relocated to a hockey arena in upstate Glens Falls, New York, to accommodate social distancing. As a result, the puppies had a much larger field to play on when the game taped last fall. 

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Chip is a 17-week-old American Staffordshire Terrier/German Shepherd mix playing for Team Fluff in next month’s “Puppy Bowl.” (Photo: Contributed by Discovery+ / Animal Planet / Elias Weiss Friedman)

“We’re finally shooting in a real sporting venue, even though we are technically a fake sporting event,” says longtime “ruffaree” Dan Schachner. “The scale of it is immense – it looks like a completely different show. It’s a supersized version of ‘Puppy Bowl,’ even though we have fewer dogs.” 

“Puppy Bowl” usually features about 100 dogs, all of whom are adopted by the time the show airs on Feb. 7. This year’s game has70 puppy players from 22 shelters, mostly from the northeast rather than nationwide. 

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