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Editor's Column



  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Spring 2008
ZEKE THE WONDER DOG—A TRADITION ENDURES

            Sponsorship by the MSU Alumni Association will allow a beloved MSU football halftime tradition to continue.

            Tradition does not happen overnight.  It’s something that catches on, and over time, it evolves into tradition.

            One tradition unique to MSU is the halftime football entertainment provided by “Zeke the Wonder Dog”—a critter that awed generations of Spartans with his very athletic moves when catching Frisbees.  It’s an act that caught on from the get go.

            And now, I’m delighted to report, thanks to generous sponsorship by the MSU Alumni Association, Zeke will continue to enthrall Spartan Stadium crowds at halftimes.

            “We’re delighted to be doing this,” says owner Terri Foley, MSW ’86, of Holland, whose husband Jim Foley is the trainer and handler of the current Zeke (III).  “This is one of MSU’s great traditions and I hope everyone appreciates what the MSU Alumni Association has done to allow us to continue the tradition.”

            This tradition actually began in 1977.  Gary Eisenberg, ’79, was then a sophomore at MSU and he owned a yellow Labrador that had terrific motor skills.  "I was just a student having fun with my dog," remembers Eisenberg, now a shopping center developer based in West Bloomfield.  "We won the Michigan Frisbee competition, the Midwest regionals, the national semi-finals and then were runner-up in the world competition in Pasadena. The press picked it up in East Lansing and started calling him 'Wonder Dog.'  MSU invited me to do a home game. The response was so great, it started a tradition. We performed at MSU for about eight seasons. It was a wonderful, wonderful time."

            The original Zeke performed from 1977 until 1984, although in the 1980s several performances were by substitutes—including Keze, the only female dog to have performed as “Zeke.”  In 1978, the cover of the Minnesota/MSU football program featured the original Zeke.  Later on, then football coach Darryl Rogers actually awarded Zeke a varsity letter.  For those of you into trivia, yes, Zeke is the only non-human to ever receive a letter from MSU. The original Zeke passed in 1987.

            Flash forward to the 2000s.  In 2002, then athletics director Ron Mason and senior associate athletics director Mark Hollis—who had seen the original Zeke when he was a student at MSU in the early 1980s—wanted to revive the tradition.  They did a search, complete with tryouts, and the new Zeke was uncovered—a dog belonging to the Foleys.

            Two years before, in 2000, Jim and Terri Foley had adopted Dexter, a black Labrador-pointer mix, from the Humane Society.  Terri had attended MSU during the 1970s and been an admirer of the original Zeke.  Within a week of adopting Dexter, the Foleys enrolled him in a Dog Club and noticed that he showed a knack for catching Frisbees. When they found out MSU was seeking  another Zeke, they entered Dexter in the tryouts. In August 2001, says Jim, Dexter was picked to be the next Zeke.

            "Certainly nothing's going to replicate the original Zeke, but we're going to try our best," Terri vowed at the time.

            It did not take long for MSU football fans to warm up to Zeke II. "The response from the students was awesome,” exults Jim, who began the popular practice of throwing paw-autographed Frisbees into the crowd. “They adopted him right off the bat." 

            Adds Terri, "There was quite a roar (after his first appearance). The alumni remembered.”

            Zeke II (Dexter) could go the distance of the football field.  “The crowd really enjoys the long throws,” notes Terri. “After we leave the stadium, everyone wants to pet him and take pictures of him. It takes us a long time just to get out of the stadium."

            Zeke II’s last performance in Spartan Stadium was at last fall’s Western Michigan game.  He suffered an accident and was hospitalized.  From the Pittsburgh game on, the performances were really by Zeke III—or “BooCoo,” a yellow Labrador (like the original) that the Foleys selected after looking at some 600 dogs.

            “He has all the right ingredients,” says Jim.  “He has the athleticism, the smarts, he came from a great breed line, and basically he has no flaws.  This dog is the perfect Spartan.”

            Having Zeke perform involves a tremendous investment of time, which the Foleys volunteer, as well as expenses, including transportation costs.  That’s where the MSU Alumni Association has stepped in, preserving this wonderful MSU tradition.  For those who have seen him perform, the latest Zeke looks like an identical clone of the original.

            How did he come to be named BooCoo?  Explains Jim, “When I first threw him a Frisbee, he took off like a banshee and wouldn’t let anyone else in the pack catch him.  He just ran and ran.  One of my friends blurted, ‘That dog has beaucoup drive,’ and so we named him ‘BooCoo.””

            And what does Zeke III think of all the attention?  “It's awesome out there in front of 76,000 screaming fans," says Jim. "But Zeke’s just focused on the Frisbee. He just loves to play Frisbee."

            Everyone seems to love the new Zeke, including Gary Eisenberg, who manages to make a few home games in Spartan Stadium.  "I come to all the Homecoming games," he says. "It’s amazing.  I’ll keep coming until I’m a creaky old guy, like the guy the comes out in the raccoon coat. It's just a great tradition."