What time is it? Kit­ten Bowl IV tap­ing time!

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Leanne Italie

The furry, fleet­footed 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 all­star 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.

LEANNE ITALIE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kit­tens run around a minia­ture foot­ball field on Wed­nes­day dur­ing the tap­ing of Kit­ten Bowl IV in New York, an an­nual spe­cial that airs on the Hall­mark Chan­nel each Su­per Bowl Sun­day.

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