Of all the puppy tales that have graced the annual Puppy Bowl over the past fifteen years, the most heart-rending is the one sportscaster, Bill Stern, told his rapt radio audience some years ago.
Pongo, a young Dalmatian, was a substitute puppy on a mixed team of mongrel half-breeds who, somehow, had worked their way to a league championship, and into that year's Puppy Bowl. The first team was so good that Pongo rode the bench game after game, always pleading with his coach to let him play.
"Just give me a chance, coach, for one play. I don't even have to push the ball. Just let me play. PLEASE!"
The answer was always, "We'll see how things go, and maybe I can put you in." And, on rare occasions, coach sent Pongo in, and each time coach regretted it, for Pongo fumbled the ball to the other team, committed a foul on a crucial play, or missed an opportunity to stop an opposing puppy, allowing him to score. Pongo was promptly benched again.
Finally, it was the last game of the season, a spot in the Puppy Bowl had been assured, and nothing could be lost by letting Pongo play. Also, it would give his star puppy a rest, and avoid the possibility of injury. So the coach decided to let Pongo in for the kick off, and maybe he could stay in for another play,
Pongo was beside himself with joy, so much so, that he stumbled as he ran onto the playing field, and the coach buried his face in his hands as the crowd roared with laughter. But when the ref threw out the ball to start the game, Pongo was the first to reach it, nosed it toward the opposite goal, and, unaided, scored the first points as the crowd went wild.
Coach decided to leave Pongo in for another minute to see how he'd do on defense. Pongo was as brilliant there as on offense, taking the ball away from his opponent almost instantly. So Pongo stayed in, not only for the remainder of the first half, but for the entire game. His victorious teammates gave him the game ball, and the coach called him aside as the rest of the players left the field.
"How come you were so lousy in practice all year, but spectacular beyond words today?"
"Well, coach," Pongo explained, "Do you remember that Wag, my Dad, used to come to the kennel every day during the season and walk around the campus with me, shoulder to shoulder? And he would sit in the stands for every single one of our games, cheering our team on. But he never got to see me play...until today. Even when you had put me in a game, Dad couldn't have seen me play, because... Dad was blind. He walked so closely with me on the campus because he couldn't see and needed my help.
"Dad died last week, Today was the first time he could see me play. And I played my heart out for him."
And as the puppies took the field for this year's Puppy Bowl, onlookers wondered if there is another Pongo out there, playing his heart out for his Dad.