Eli Manning, two-time Super Bowl champion, is about to pass on his jersey number 10, four years after it was officially retired by the NFL. But before you get worried about some breaking of football tradition, he’s passing it off to a dog. Specifically, Ten, Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s latest trained guide dog, who was officially presented as part of a mock “draft” during an event today at the Penn Club in New York City attended by Dog o’Day.
“The number 10 is about consistency and durability,” Manning told the assembled crowd during the presentation. “It’s a number I don’t take lightly.”
And given the weight of the championship number, Manning was able to present Ten to a key member of Guiding Eyes for the Blind: Thomas Panek, CEO & President of the non-profit organization which both trains seeing eye dogs, and matches them free of charge with those people who have vision loss.
“I’m very proud to support them,” Manning continued. “Throughout the years I’ve learned how passionate the bond between a person and their guide dog can be.”
Manning has been working with the organization – which has been around since 1956 – for nearly 20 years at this point, first getting involved thanks to his friend, pro-golfer Pat Browne Jr. Since then, according to Panek, Manning has been a key part of the organization, helping raise over $300,000 to help support the cause, and the intricate process of training dogs to help the blind and visually impaired.
The event itself was by turns emotionally charged, given Panek has been waiting a long time for his own guide dog – he’s a runner, and participating in marathons with Ten will bring him real joy – and laugh-out-loud funny, as Manning made jokes about the purview of the event.
“Of course 10 is wildly handsome, ridiculously smart, and already a champion out there,” joked Manning. “But I’m excited to say this one is just getting started… Ten, not only did you make the cut today, you’re the number one draft pick.”
As part of the ceremony, on display was a “Guide Dog Draft Contract,” signed by Manning, Panek, and paw-printed by Ten. Continuing to lay down the jokes, Manning added that Ten “did request a signing bonus,” including doggie treats and a few stuffed animals.
After the event, during a quick huddle – pun intended – with Manning and Panek, the former quarterback noted, laughing, that he had just met Ten “this morning” when asked what it was like meeting the dog for the first time. Still, he has been involved in the process for a long time before this.
“They sent me pictures and kept me updated,” Manning told Dog o’Day, “on some of his training, and what he was doing, and that he made it through some of the first steps of becoming a guide dog. So it was all getting updates on what was going on. But it was this morning, right before the press conference he came in the room, I helped him sign the contract, his rookie contract. I was there, and so excited to see him, and he’s in great hands with Thomas.”
Added Panek, “It was amazing. You know, it’s a journey, having a guide dog… Raised, and like Eli said, not all the guide dogs make it.”
For those not familiar, the process to train a guide dog can take years of hard work, and part of Guiding Eyes For The Blind’s purview is working with dedicated trainers and volunteers – two of whom were in attendance at the event – to make sure they’re ready. Over the past year, the organization has trained 150 dogs that have been paired with new owners, and are looking to continue that pace into 2024.
“To have the number one draft pick here come to me,” continued Panek, “It is coincidence, it really is. There are a lot of dogs who come through that program, so when he was going through training, and when my team decided he has the qualities in a dog that would match my lifestyle, my pace also because the walking pace is a match. It’s like having a great teammate to be able to play with. And we’re a perfect match. Right now I’m going to go home and cry, I’m sure, a couple of times, give him big hugs. Right now, I’m just really proud of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, our instructors, our team, Eli for putting his number behind us as an organization. And also for my team, naming a dog in his honor. Ten is now my MVP.”
If you would like to learn more about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, how to volunteer, or are looking for a guide dog of your own, you can find out more info on their website.