Saturday, May 21, 2022

Spartans revere the life of Zeke II

Students talk about the Zeke the Wonder Dog tradition that still holds strong at MSU. Zeke III replaced Zeke II as the half time performer in 2007, and has been catching Frisbees at Spartan Stadium ever since. Zeke III is the only living Zeke, after Zeke II passed away at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Photo by Rebecca Ryan | The State News

Football Saturdays at MSU are characterized by many iconic traditions, including Sparty, sounds from the “Michigan State Fight Song” filling the air and for much of the last decade, Zeke the Wonder Dog catching Frisbees at halftime.

Zeke the Wonder Dog II, who performed at MSU football games from 2001 to 2007, died at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday from old age, said Zeke’s trainer Jim Foley. Jim and his wife, Terri Foley, rescued and trained the black labrador and pointer mix at their Holland, Mich., home. Zeke II was more than 16 years old when he died.

“He had a heart that would have kept on going forever, but his body just couldn’t go on,” Jim Foley said.

The original Zeke performed from 1977 to 1984, Terri Foley said, adding that MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis was instrumental in bringing the tradition of Zeke back to campus in 2001. The tradition continues today with Zeke III — also owned by the Foleys — after Zeke II’s retirement prior to the 2007 football season.

Zeke II spent retirement at the Foley’s neighbor’s tailgate parties watching MSU games, swimming in Lake Michigan and running on beaches, Jim Foley said.

“He had an awesome retirement — he enjoyed every day,” he said.

Theatre freshman Kara O’Connor was saddened to hear about the passing of Zeke II, and said she’s a fan of the Zeke halftime tradition.

“It really gets the crowd going because you’re anticipating him catching it, and everyone seems to enjoy it,” O’Connor said.

The passing of Zeke II has generated a lot of reactions from alumni across the country, said Scott Westerman, executive director of the MSU Alumni Association.

“When we heard that we lost him, it was like losing a member of the family,” Westerman said. “There are certain things that are symbolic of the Spartan experience — Sparty is one of them, Beaumont Tower is another and Zeke is the third.”

Zeke II’s notoriety goes beyond Spartan Stadium, however, having performed at various NFL preseason games and MSU basketball games, along with being featured in Sports Illustrated and seen on ESPN and ABC, Jim Foley said.

The Foley’s backyard was mainly where Zeke II honed his skills, said Jim Foley, who slowly increased the distance he threw the Frisbees as Zeke II improved during his year of training.

“I finally worked him up to 40 yards in my backyard, and then I had to take him to a football field,” he said.

One of the Foley’s fondest memories of Zeke II happened during a parade in Lansing when former Michigan Gov. John Engler threw him Frisbees from the back of a convertible, Jim Foley said.

“Gov. Engler was just rolling over laughing, it was so much fun,” he said. “When you a love a dog as much as I loved Zeke — he was just a great Spartan.”

Jim Foley said after grieving, he and Terri will look for a new black labrador this spring. He said he hopes Zeke III, who is five years old, won’t be retiring until he’s at least 11.

A scholarship has been created in Zeke II’s memory for students in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Terri Foley said.

“He loved the students, and he always ended all of his shows in front of the students,” she said. “As a matter of fact, the band, on his last game focused the music around Zeke the Wonder Dog.”

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