Puppy Bowl: ‘It was love at first bark’

Published 12:18 pm Friday, March 22, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Southside SPCA puppy known as ‘Flea Flicker’ is now somewhat of a local sensation. The 10-month old chihuahua miniature pinscher, who’s been renamed ‘Wrigley’, made an appearance during this year’s 20th Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. 

But a month before Ireland Miller discovered Wrigley’s superstar alias, she and her mother fell in love with the puppy’s friendly disposition and adorable cuddles. The Millers adopted Wrigley aka Flea Flicker last October, before they found out she was a Puppy Bowl athlete. 

Ireland Miller first laid eyes on the pup at a sporting event. Francee Schuma, the Assistant Director of Southside SPCA, brought Wrigley to a game in early September. 

Email newsletter signup

Puppy Bowl

“Francee sometimes brings rescue dogs just to come meet people to see if anyone’s interested. It’s been 10 years since we had a dog and we weren’t necessarily looking for a dog, but we weren’t opposed to having a dog,” said Miller. 

Wrigley was a rescue dog from the Southside SPCA, a small, no-kill animal welfare organization. The organization found Wrigley among a litter of other abandoned puppies several months ago. By the time Miller met Wrigley, the dog had a secret: she was selected to represent the Southside SPCA at the Puppy Bowl. 

Miller said Wrigley seemed comfortable being carried by everyone, and was a “people-person type of dog.” At the time, Miller observed that Wrigley was chill and laid back – “the complete opposite of the dog that she is.” 

“She was just the cutest little thing ever, and she curled up in my mom’s arms immediately. After that, we were like, ‘OK, so it’s not a question of are we going to adopt this dog, it’s when are we going to adopt this dog?’” 


What Miller didn’t know was that Schuma brought Wrigley to the game as a way to socialize her before the Puppy Bowl. 

“I just said, ‘You’re getting one special dog, and you’ll learn more later’,” said Schuma. 

“We were like, ‘Oh, I’m sure that she’s perfect.’ Didn’t really think much of it,” said Miller. 

The Millers adopted Wrigley shortly after the Puppy Bowl was filmed. 

The Miller family is passionate about sports. Ireland Miller played field hockey for William and Mary University, and her parents both played hockey as well. The family has had a tradition of naming their dogs after sports figures. Their last dog’s name was Messier, named after the Canadian former ice hockey player Mark Messier. After visiting Chicago last summer, Miller was inspired to name her new puppy “Wrigley” after Wrigley Field Stadium. 

“She loves her name. She loves hearing her name. She responded to it really quickly,” said Miller. 

Learning that Wrigley was a Puppy Bowl dog was just a bonus for the athletic family. 

“We didn’t really know-how much it meant for a dog to be selected and how much it means for Southside to really have a dog represent everything they do,” said Miller. “To have the fact that this dog is also just as athletic and competitive; we’re just continuing the sports storyline with everyone.” 


On Super Bowl Sunday, all eyes in Farmville were on Wrigley, who competed with the name Flea Flicker in the Puppy Bowl. Even Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan was excited for the matchup, tweeting hours before the game, “Today, Flea Flicker is going for an all-out blitz on our hearts (and the occasional treat).” 

The Millers drove from Virginia Beach to attend Puppy Bowl watch parties at O’Toole’s restaurant in Midlothian and The Old Pig in Farmville. They were excited to see the superstar in action, but even puppies get game day jitters. 

“We were nervous because she didn’t sleep at all on the way up or on the way back,” said Miller. “I think she had some pregame nerves and some postgame nerves.” 

Dozens of people were waiting at both venues to cheer on the pup, and the energy was electric. Wrigley reunited with her Southside SPCA trainers and her former foster families who raised her when she was just a few weeks old. Miller said Wrigley “100% remembered all of them.” Her adoring fans took photos and videos with her throughout the afternoon. 

With 131 dogs participating in this year’s Puppy Bowl from 73 shelters and rescues, Wrigley still stood out. 

“She had plenty of air time,” said Schuma, who described the pup as a “team player.” “Every time we saw her on the TV, the crowd at the Midlothian Watch Party would scream in unison, ‘Flea Flicker’!” 

Although Wrigley was a part of a few plays, her shining moment was when a puppy “streaker” entered the field without a bandana. 

“Wrigley was edited into the clip to make it seem like she was reacting to the streak. I don’t think she appreciated the interruption of the game, but she was very energetic during the game,” said Miller. 

Unfortunately, Wrigley’s Team Fluff lost to Team Ruff in the final seconds of the game. The game was a nailbiter, with Team Ruff bringing home the Lombarky Trophy by just three points. The final score was 72-69 after Cookie, a Siberian Husky and Pitbull Terrier-mix, scored the final touchdown with two seconds left on the clock. Despite the loss, Wrigley was still Farmville’s Most Valuable Puppy, receiving plenty of love, attention, and treats for a job well-done. 

“At the end of the day, Wrigley had a great time and that’s all we can ask for,” said Miller. 


These days, the local rookie loves stealing socks, hanging out on the couch at night, and taking naps with her humans. 

“She fits into our family. She is just so funny, quirky. She’s energetic and bold, but is such a sweetheart,” said Miller. 

Miller recently tried playing an indoor game of hockey with the furball player using tennis balls. The athlete may be sticking to football for now. 

“She wasn’t as reactive as I hoped. Tennis balls aren’t her toy of choice,” said Miller. 

Although Wrigley and Team Fluff lost the 20th Puppy Bowl, she helped her former team at Southside SPCA win big. A few days before the Puppy Bowl aired on Animal Planet, the organization had seen an increase in adoptions. Schuma said immediately after the Puppy Bowl, they saw another uptick in applications coming in. 

“We are hopeful and excited that this will continue to bring much needed attention to the animals waiting for their forever homes at Southside SPCA,” said Schuma. 

Now, the field lights are off. The cameras are down. The screaming, adoring fans have gone home, but so has Wrigley. Miller said her family is grateful for the experience, but she’s even more grateful for her new furry family member. 

“We wouldn’t have this amazing dog and she wouldn’t be in our lives without the Southside SPCA and all the work that they do, tirelessly helping the communities that they serve,” said Miller.