The NFL draft may be taking over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, but a more adorable draft was taking place at the Morris Animal Refugee on Wednesday.
Animal Planet teamed up with the NFL and the 143-year-old Center City shelter for a "Road to Puppy Bowl Draft" event, a leadup to its popular Puppy Bowl, which airs during the Super Bowl. Eagles running back Terrell Watson, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, cornerback Ron Brooks, and linebacker Najee Goode were joined by NFL hopeful and Temple alum Dion Dawkins to help draft puppies for the two teams at the Puppy Bowl: Team Ruff and Team Fluff. Morris is no stranger to the Puppy Bowl; dogs from its shelter are often included in the big event.
Instantly, the players gravitated to the pups, many of which pawed their shoulders, licked their faces, and even nibbled on their hair, in the case of Brooks. The players were won over before the draft began.
The patio was bustling with people ready to adopt before the draft. Others just came to watch.
Over seven rounds, the players chose pups for each team and gave them gridiron-themed nicknames like "Troy Pawlamalu," "Lick Butkus," and "Tomcat Brady." Dawkins' first draft pick was a beagle-pit bull mix that he dubbed "Payton Mutting."
"He's pretty young, but I think he can run our offense," Dawkins said.
In an interview before the draft, Dawkins said the event means a lot to him.
"I'm a big animal lover. While in college, I used to go to the kennel and just play with dogs," he said. "They show us a lot of love, and we should show a lot of love as well."
In Round Six, Kendricks chose a pup and dubbed her "Tim Tebow-wow" because he said her namesake is religious and "she is a blessing."
In the last round, Kendricks fell in love with a puppy named Scarlet. He cradled her slowly and mouthed to his girlfriend, who was standing on the sidelines, "This is the one." The linebacker even asked Lewis Checchia, executive director of the Morris Animal Refuge, about adoption, but Scarlet was already taken.
After returning Scarlet to her crate, he said, "She was just so sweet and gave me little kisses. I didn't have anything smart to say. So, like any other woman, she ignored me."
Phyllis Valentino, who was a foster mother to six of the dogs for two weeks, was emotional. "I'm so sad to see them go," she said. "I just want them to go to good homes."
Valentino received the dogs a day before they were set to be euthanized in Georgia.
Belinda Adams, 60, adopted one of the puppies, Shiloh. The beagle-pit mix stood out to Adams because she was the calmest.
"I'm newly retired and the weather is about to be great," she said. "I'm looking forward to taking her out on walks. My granddaughter is going to love her."
Adams admitted she had no idea who any of the players were.
Sixteen puppies were adopted. Animal Planet covered the adoption fees, not just for the dogs in the draft but for any animal that the Morris Animal Refuge housed that day. Adopting families were sent home with a "Wag Bag" of puppy products.