For those who missed the moment during last night’s Monday Night Football game, we saw a black cat streak across the field, briefly stopping the game in the second quarter. Here’s the cat’s (very true) story…
Shelly Whiskers waited her whole life for that moment—for her moment, the one when she’d be able to streak across the field of MetLife Stadium in front of thousands of people live and millions of viewers watching at home. Seconds before the New Jersey cat made her appearance at the Giants game against the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, fellow cat fans reported seeing her beneath the bleachers, her tail twitching, her green eyes glowing with determination and a sense of purpose greater than herself, greater than her family, greater than football, greater than America. This—an act of defiance, grace and bravery—was for any cat who’d ever been told something wasn’t pawsible.
So when the time was right, Whiskers pounced.
If you were watching, you know. You saw the black feline burst onto the scene during the second quarter. Whiskers juked the security guards, confused the groundspeople and delayed play while she flirted with the end zone. She exhibited perfect form, tensing her haunches and tucking her little kitty paws beneath her fuzzy tummy as she leapt—floated, rather—across the turf.
Sports Twitter erupted with puns and cats across the country climbed onto television stands, twitching their tails in solidarity, pawing at their owners’ television screens. Finally, some feline representation in sports!
So who is Whiskers and where did she come from? Unfortunately, she has yet to emerge from the depths of MetLife stadium, where she took refuge after last night’s performance. When I tried to go out to MetLife Stadium to look for her myself, I was denied access; representatives told me, “we are not doing any cat interviews onsite today. We will update everyone if and when we locate the cat.”
But after extensive interviews with Whiskers’s family and friends, I’ve been able to piece together a picture of this cat’s extraordinary life and her brief yet glorious time in the spotlight.
* * *
The bleachers weren’t a place from where a cat wanted to be. The most privileged cats—the ones that were combed daily and fed expensive organic food marketed to their owners on Instagram—grew up in houses full of soft surfaces to sleep on and cat trees to scratch. But the bleachers were home for Whiskers. Those cement stairs littered with empty cans, peanut shells and hardened nacho cheese shaped her.
“Shelly really had to learn how to adapt,” said Marcus Swatsalot, a tabby cat who grew up with Whiskers. He sat on a barstool at the Meow Inn, a dive bar for cats located under the nearby Meadowland Racetrack stands. A scar cuts through the fur above his right eye and he’s developed a bit of a paunch, but you can tell he was once a purrfect-looking guy. “There was something special about her. She was an incredible athlete, but she had the star power too. During gym class she’d leap higher than everyone else when the felt toy came out, and she did it with a flourish. It was hard to look away when Shelly jumped.”
Gym class became something of an escape for young Whiskers, whose home life under the bleachers wasn’t easy. Her father, Mister, worked nights at a local bodega, meowing at customers who came in to buy a lighter or a bag of chips. Sometimes they’d drop him a piece of pepperoni from a slice of pizza, but most nights he came home empty-pawed. Whiskers’s mother Fluffy disappeared when she was very young. There were rumors that a family of Broncos fans found her wandering the concourse after the Super Bowl in 2014 and took her home, hoping to soothe their children's dashed championship dreams. But no one knows for sure.
“It’s been tough, yeah,” said Mister, who’s more gray than black now and speaks with a thick Brooklyn accent, even though he’s been in New Jersey for all of his lives. “I think Fluffy’s going away was a turning point for Shelly, when she realized that life is short and anything can happen at any moment. That’s when she started training. That’s when she decided that one day, she’d be a star.”
Whiskers’s dream of streaking during a football game was born while watching a Packers game at the Meow Inn three years ago, when she saw a squirrel run across the field at Lambeau. Her best friend Fur Elise, who works the bar on Sundays, recalls seeing Whiskers jump onto the counter on her hind legs when the squirrel emerged.
“I think that’s when she knew what she wanted,” said Elise, while pouring another glass of milk for Swatsalot. “She saw what was possible. I remember her saying, ‘If a f---ing squirrel can do it, I can do it.’”
While many of the cats Whiskers grew up with told her she was crazy, she purr-servered, hitting the gym more and appearing at the Meow Inn less and less. During Giants’ and Jets’ practices, she watched the wide receivers rehearse their quick cuts back and forth across the gridiron, taking copious notes. She took a special liking to Odell Beckham Jr. and his one-handed catches, which reminded her of the way Fluffy used to swat at the bugs that buzzed around MetLife on warm summer days. While catching a football was out of the question because Whiskers doesn’t have thumbs, she’d still sneak out onto the field to practice the routes Beckham ran. She planned to emulate him when her time came.
And then Beckham left New York for Cleveland last offseason. Whiskers had already suffered the loss of her mother, and now she had to say goodbye to the man who brought her joy? Who inspired her? Beckham’s departure nearly broke Whiskers. She made a rare appearance at the Meow Inn, which was the last time her friends saw her.
“She was a mess,” Swatsalot said, as Elise turned her back to the bar, wiping away a solitary kitty tear. “Padded in and started knocking back shots of cream. We thought we’d have to carry her home but she sprinted out, a little wobbly, when our backs were turned. After that, we didn’t think she’d ever go through with her plan.”
“I miss her every day,” Elise added, cracking open a can of food for a nearby patron.
* * *
On Monday night, however, Whiskers’s friends’ fears were assuaged. The cats who never stopped loving her watched her complete her life’s mission on the biggest stage this country has to offer. Mister meowed in the bodega as his daughter captured the hearts of America, and Elise and Swatsalot put their paws around each other when she appeared on the television screen.
“We knew she was waiting for primetime,” Elise said. “We just didn’t know when it would be. As we realized it was happening, I felt happier than that time I knocked a vase of flowers off a table. And that’s saying something.”
The rest of the country may have seen an adorable stray startled by fan noise who’d lost her way in a vast stadium, but Whiskers’s family and friends saw a triumph. This was no catastrophe. There was no need for sympathy. This was everything Whiskers had ever wanted.
“Shelly taught us that no matter who you are—a pampered house cat or a stray from MetLife—you should always chase your tail,” Mister said, before he darted out onto the New Jersey streets. “I mean, your dreams. Definitely chase your dreams, not your tail.”
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