What You Should Do if You’re a Professional Football Player and a Cat Runs on the Field

The black cat that interrupted the second quarter of the New York Giants–Dallas Cowboys game at MetLife Stadium on Monday night, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Fans at MetLife Stadium haven’t had much to cheer about this season—that is, until they saw a cat run onto the field and interrupt Monday night’s game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. ESPN’s cameras stayed with the feline invader as he high-stepped toward pay dirt. The crowd went wild at this distraction from NFC East football, and those listening to Westwood One’s radio broadcast were treated to a thrilling play-by-play from announcer Kevin Harlan.

Reporter Madelyn Burke spoke with MetLife security, who said that the cat was a feral resident of the stadium.

This isn’t too uncommon. The infamous black cat that paraded in front of the Chicago Cubs’ dugout during a 1969 game against the New York Mets didn’t materialize out of thin air. “We had a lot of cats [at Shea Stadium] because we had a lot of rats there,’’ New York first baseman Ed Kranepool said in a 2011 interview.

If my limited knowledge of the musical Cats tells me anything, it’s that the MetLife kitty will be sharing a jaunty song about his misadventures with a rag-tag gang of leotard-clad weirdos under the bleachers. Though, that’s just a guess. According to a stadium spokesperson, “The black cat ran off the field and disappeared under a seating section. Once we locate and safely capture the cat, we will take it to a veterinarian for examination.” Its whereabouts were still unknown as of 1:20 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, when the spokesperson informed me they were “not doing any cat interviews today.”

After the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had a rather odd response to the whole affair.

If you ignore the interspecies paranoia, he makes an interesting observation. It didn’t seem as if anyone wanted to “go grab” that cat.

Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence had his own reasons. “I hate cats,” he told reporters, citing superstition. “If a black cat runs on the damn field on a Monday Night Football, you might want to call it quits, bro. Y’all’s luck is terrible.” Given how the Cowboys have fared over the past two decades, perhaps it is the cat who should be worried about contracting bad luck.

Though, if the cat cursed anyone, it was the Giants. Dallas was losing 9–3 before it rushed the field. They then went on to win 37–18, and Lawrence overcame his aversion to felines and tweeted a photoshopped tribute to the team’s interloping charm.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott had an excuse for staying away from the cat (“I’m allergic,” he said after the game), and wide receiver Amari Cooper believed it was in his own best interest to let the animal do its thing. “I was kind of happy about that, because it came around the time that my knee was hurting so I was thinking I had a little bit more time to get this thing right,” he said.

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, meanwhile, simply wasn’t in the mood to help. “I’m not superstitious, but I wasn’t getting near it,” he said.

Did the players do the right thing by steering clear of Monday night’s big star? What was going through the cat’s head? To learn more, I reached out to certified animal behaviorist (and frequent Beast Mode source) Mikel Delgado.

You may want to sit down for this, but apparently cats don’t love having 80,000 football fans scream for their every move. “That kitty was panicking,” Delgado says. “People often forget that cats are prey in addition to predators. They’re kind of a mesopredator. Even though they hunt they’re also very vulnerable. To be very exposed like that is scary.”

NFL players may be world-class athletes and experts at chasing their fast-moving peers, but they were wise to let this elusive sprinter break free. “It can be dangerous to touch a cat that is panicked,” Delgado says. “Their instinct is probably going to be to bite to protect themselves. They’re going to be in fight or flight mode. Those types of bites can be very serious.”

So, what should you do if you’re in the middle of a hotly contested Monday Night Football game against a division rival and a cat runs on the field (a situation most people are very familiar with)? “It’s really hard, because it’s a very large space and it’s very loud. You can’t ask everyone to shut up for 10 minutes so the cat can calm down,” Delgado says. “It’s a bad situation. The best thing to do is provide the cat with as many escape routes as possible. Just let them find the escapes, clear the pathways, and let them go.”

She adds that, in a similar situation where you have more control, “the ideal thing is to work with the cat’s natural instinct, which is to escape. In that case, providing them with a safe route. If you give them box or a carrier, they may go into it out of their own fear. You never have to touch them.”

Delgado notes there was one notable exception to this strategy, and it resulted in a very happy ending. “Tony La Russa started an animal shelter after a stray cat ran out to a game,” she says. This was in 1990, when La Russa was manager of the Oakland A’s and a kitty ran out onto the field. “He caught her, but there was no shelter to bring her to that wouldn’t put her to sleep, so he actually started an animal shelter and became an animal rights activist after that experience. I don’t know how he eventually caught her, but he did.” Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (or “ARF”) is still active today and, according to its website, the organization has rescued 42,000 cats and dogs.

Not everyone has the feline magnetism of Tony La Russa, so all the players who gave the cat space on Monday night actually did the right thing. Let’s hope the kitty is safe, healthy, and as far away from Jerry Jones as possible.