Watch Graham House dog Cooper in Puppy Bowl XII on February 7, 2016, at 2 p.m. CST. (Courtesy Animal Planet)

UChicago’s Puppy Bowl MVP

Max Palevsky resident Cooper will tumble and play his way to glory on Super Bowl Sunday.

On Super Bowl Sunday, residents of Graham House in Max Palevsky Residential Commons will gather to watch one of their own compete in the big game—and cheer each “linebarker” dodged and each chew toy run in for a touchdown.

Cooper, a Great Pyrenees/Collie mix owned by resident heads Tim Johnson and Michelle Skinner (right), is on Team Fluff in Puppy Bowl XII, airing on Animal Planet on February 7. An all-canine, all-adorable version of football’s biggest showdown, the Puppy Bowl features 49 rescue pups playing around in a miniature stadium.

First broadcast in 2005 as an aww-inducing Super Bowl alternative, the two-hour special uses cuteness to promote pet adoption and now includes chicken cheerleaders, a Hall of Fame, and a Kitty Halftime Show. Last year 10.4 million people tuned in.

Cooper’s publicity shot for Puppy Bowl XII. (Courtesy Animal Planet)

Skinner and Johnson adopted Cooper from PAWS Chicago in August, and a few weeks later the organization asked for photos of him for a “media appearance.”

During O-Week, Skinner, AM’15, a doctoral candidate in the English department, was doing research in Special Collections when she got the call that Cooper had been picked to play for the Vince Lombarki Trophy. “I was like, ‘Can you say that again?’” she says. “It was so exciting.”

A nondisclosure agreement kept the couple from telling anyone about Cooper’s spot on #TeamFluff until earlier this month, which meant covert Puppy Bowl prep before the October pretaping.

They trained Cooper to move toys around to practice scoring puppy touchdowns. Homecoming and other UChicago fall events gave them an excuse to have him practice wearing a bandana around his neck, an essential Puppy Bowl skill.

Cooper models the UChicago bandana he used to train for the Puppy Bowl. (Photography by Helen Gregg, AB’09)

Resident head duties meant Skinner and Johnson couldn’t attend the pretaping in New York, so “we’ll be on the edge of our seats” during the broadcast, says Skinner. They’re hosting a viewing party for the whole residence hall, which is filled with Cooper fans—especially the 85 students in Graham House.

Cooper, and the students’ affection for him, has been a boon to the first-year resident heads. “We call him our most effective RH tool,” says Skinner. Upset students often ask to pet the dog for a few minutes, after which they’re more willing to open up and talk. During finals week, students can sign up to “check out” Cooper for 30-minute increments for stress relief, and a Thanksgiving weekend outing with the dog helped alleviate some students’ homesickness.

Cooper isn’t allowed in student rooms and certain other parts of the building, but “even some of the students with dog allergies will come by and pet him for a little while and then go wash their hands really quickly,” says Johnson.

Cooper is a Great Pyrenees/Collie mix. (Courtesy Animal Planet)

Cooper’s popularity extends beyond Graham House, says Johnson. “People who we have no idea who they are know his name and approach him and pet him and he loves it, he just loves the attention.” Skinner is pretty sure that’s why Cooper likes to play outside near the large windows of the Reg, because he knows he’s being watched. He also loves the Classics quads, she says, since it’s “a big dog hangout spot.” (One of his most recent playmates there was the dog of a Nobel Prize winner.)

Cooper is completely at home on campus, says Skinner. “He definitely feels like he owns the place.”

Fun facts about Cooper

  • Loves each of the 85 students he lives with in Graham House  
  • Has a crush on Gracie, a dog who lives in Max Palevsky East  
  • Looks up to Scout, the service dog of Tim’s brother  
  • Hopes to graduate at the top of his obedience school class  
  • Dreams of catching a ball at Wrigley Field
Cooper in his Cubs jersey. (Photo courtesy Michelle Skinner)