The original Zeke made his first appearance in 1977 at a football game catching frisbees at halftime. Since then, there have been four Zekes to appear at games, with the fourth iteration making his first outing in 2016.
Jim and Terri Foley have been involved with Zeke for the past 20 years and it all started with a tryout.
“There was a tryout and Zeke won it, it was amazing,” Jim Foley said.
Even though Zeke I stopped performing in 1984, the Foleys continued to handle the next dogs in line.
Eighteen years after the original Zeke stopped performing, the athletic department revived the tradition, and Jim and Terri Foley stepped up.
Even with this opportunity, it was a stressful time for them as they only had two days to prepare for their first game.
For Terri Foley, being a part of Zeke’s life has been very special because of her previous connections to MSU.
“I did my graduate work at Michigan State and at that time, the original Zeke had stopped performing," Terri Foley said. "Everyone that had gone there for undergrad made sure to tell me all about the Zeke tradition. If anyone had told me that I would be the next owner of Zeke the Wonder Dog, I would have told them that they were crazy.”
Zeke is known for his appearances at football games, but he also goes out into the community often.
“We do parades, we are at schools, we do a lot of local events and we just truly see ourselves as having an honorable opportunity to spread goodwill,” Terri Foley said.
Zeke does have a lot of bright moments, but there are times when they all can’t hang their heads on a disappointing performance and they have to look forward to the next one.
“When he does fabulous you are all excited, but when it does not quite go as you had thought, then you kind of say, ‘There is always next time,’” Terri Foley said.
Even though the position of being Zeke’s caretaker comes with a lot of prominence, Jim Foley stays grounded.
“I enjoy being humble about the whole thing, really," Jim Foley said. "I am honest with everybody about what we do with that dog and I am just very humbled by it.”
Terri Foley also clarified that Zeke is not just their dog.
“Zeke is the students' dog,” Terri Foley said.
Along with staying humble, the Foleys work hard to make sure that every Spartan gets the opportunity to meet Zeke.
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“One of the things that people have said on your bucket list is one of the top 100 things to do at Michigan State University is to get a picture with Zeke, so we work hard to allow Zeke to meet as many fans and students and people that want to meet him,” Terri Foley said.
Jim Foley is a dog trainer by profession, so when he was asked what his favorite part about the job was, his response didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“My favorite part is practice,” Jim Foley said. “Playing with him. ... I love training dogs and I love training Zeke. I love challenging him, working with him and finding his strengths ... and teaching him things. I live for it, it is a passion of mine."
He added that being with the students and the football team is also one of his favorite things about the job.
“It has just been a wonderful experience,” Jim Foley said. “It has changed my life for the better with all of the positive input.”
The one thing that he wants from all of this is the tradition to go on when they can no longer continue.
“I want this tradition to go on forever,” Jim Foley said. “This is my legacy, and I want it to continue beyond my days. Hopefully, someone will pick it up someday and keep it going.”
This story is a part of our Oct. 12 print edition. View the full issue here.
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