"I'm speechless," said Meatball's co-owner, Ryan Anderson of Des Moines. "He's got a lot of character to him. He's got a lot of personality and he likes playing with everyone else."
As winner, Meatball received a key to the city, a royal cape and crown. He will make numerous public appearances at Drake Relays events, which continue through Saturday.
Meatball's secret weapon -- besides a perfectly wrinkled face and a proud potbelly-- were the handful of supporters wearing blue "Team Meatball" T-shirts and cheering on the charismatic showman in his rookie appearance.
Meatball was clad in a simple blue Drake University shirt, but others sported more outrageous outfits. One dog was dressed in pompoms, another wore a Superman cape and there were all kinds of pink.
One pup, Butch from Eden Prairie, Minn., wore a doggy-sized version of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson's jersey and earned the title of Mr. Congeniality.
"For me, the bulldog is the ugliest thing I can put my hands on. He's got to have bloodshot eyes. The right kind of bloodshot eyes, like on a Friday night after you've been out socializing," said Dolph Pulliam, the master of ceremonies for the event. "He's got to have that drooling look on his face, and then a little slobber coming down. That is the most beautiful bulldog to me in the whole wide world."
The event gets more popular every year. The 50 entry slots were filled in a record 22 hours -- up from the week it took to round out the field last year -- and 49 other dogs were relegated to a waiting list.
This year's dogs ranged in age from 9 months to 12 years old, though Buddy, the elder statesman, couldn't handle the scorching mid-60s heat and left early. They came mostly from Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Minnesota, but 4-year-old Moose traveled more than 1,000 miles from his home in Clover, S.C.
Moose serves as a mascot at a high school where his owner, Bessie Bryant-Blanton, teaches Latin. The dog didn't seem to mind the long trek north, wiggling his tail on the blue carpet.
"He was fascinated," Bryant-Blanton said of the long car ride. "Finally, about halfway here, he decided to take a nap."
For every dog who wears the Beautiful Bulldog crown, there are 49 that go home empty-pawed. This year's hard-luck loser was Maxxis, who finished as the runner-up for the second year in a row.
"It was tough competition here. We're happy he got runner-up again. He's our beautiful bulldog," Maxxis' owner, Robert Apt of Des Moines.