WATCH: Puppy Bowl Kicks Off Its Ninth Season of Cute Overload

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Adorable isn’t a word typically associated with football. But when puppies take the field, all traditional adjectives lose meaning. Sure, puppies aren’t very good at football, but that just makes the annual Puppy Bowl that much more engaging. Because, puppies! Nine million viewers are expected to tune in for the ninth edition of the yearly canine gridiron faceoff, in which the adorable — yes, we said it — athletes take the field. That’s only 8% of the total viewing audience of the actual Super Bowl, but it’s almost as many viewers as Kevin Bacon’s Fox thriller The Following got in its premiere last week. And if you can’t be bothered to switch over to Animal Planet during the game, the pint-sized players will be on repeat for a total of 12 hours on Sunday.

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This year, Meep the Bird is back, live-tweeting the action, and the hamsters will be filming it all from their blimp. The Puppy Bowl may not have a diva like Beyonce to tear up the stage at halftime — but kittens are a close second-place. And new for this year are a group of hedgehog cheerleaders, assuming the show’s producers manage to head off any wardrobe malfunctions. “Apparently hedgehogs don’t like to wear tutus,” says executive producer Melinda Toporoff. “Who knew?”

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The rules sound simple enough — the puppies drag a chew toy into the end zone to score a touchdown. But due to the unpredictability of the puppies, which tend to have bad habits including napping while playing and sometimes soiling the field, Sunday’s Puppy Bowl action won’t be a live broadcast. The two-hour special was recorded in October in a New York City studio. Two long days of filming tired out many of the puppies, who were visiting the Big Apple from rescue shelters across the country. They’re all between eight and 15 weeks old, so by the time the Puppy Bowl airs three months later, most (if not all) have already been adopted. After all, what’s not to love about these puppies? They’re already stars.

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