Eli Manning Says Loss of Family Dog Chester Was ‘Tough’ — but Golden Retriever Hank Brings ‘a Lot of Joy’ (Exclusive)

Manning opened up to PEOPLE about being a pet parent at an event for Guiding Eyes for the Blind

<p>Eli Manning/Instagram</p> Eli Manning and Hank

Eli Manning/Instagram

Eli Manning and Hank

Eli Manning may have retired from the NFL, but he performed a special handoff on Tuesday.

The New York Giants Legend joined Guiding Eyes for the Blind to connect the organization’s CEO and president, Thomas Panek, with a guide dog named Ten (Manning’s jersey number), in its first-ever Guide Dog Draft.

Manning, a longtime supporter of Guiding Eyes and member of its board of directors, tells PEOPLE it’s been “very rewarding” to be involved with the nonprofit, which trains and provides guide dogs to people who are blind or experiencing vision loss.

“Just to think about the number of people we've helped match up with a guide dog and change their life, and given them the independence to commute, to get to work,” he says. “To be more involved in their family, to travel the world, to see different things, just to live their life a little bit more fuller and make it a little bit easier, has been awesome.”

Panek tells PEOPLE he was excited to celebrate Eli’s number “in a big way” as his new pet’s namesake.

“I didn't think I'd receive a handoff from a Super Bowl champion so it means a lot to me,” he says. “Ten is a number that represents Eli's commitment, dedication, not only to his career and the amazing things he's accomplished with the Giants, but also his career as a volunteer board member for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. It just means the world to me to have Ten matched with me and to be able to know that he's going to do a great job. He's now my MVP and I'm looking forward to getting out there with him.”

<p>Gary Gershoff/Getty Images</p> Thomas Panek, Ten and Eli Manning

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Thomas Panek, Ten and Eli Manning

Related: Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin Surprise Families with Kids in Treatment for Cancer by Paying for Groceries

Manning has a beloved pet of his own. Though they lost longtime canine companion Chester, his family welcomed a pooch named Hank.

“Going through a loss of a dog for the first time was tough last year when we lost Chester, who was 12 years old,” he says. “My wife and I's first dog, even before we had kids, and tough for everybody. But now we have Hank, a big golden retriever who brings a lot of joy and a lot of work to a family of four. But to see the bond that the kids have with him, and the fun and the joy, has been awesome.”

The former star quarterback adds that he shared a “special bond” with Chester during his playing days and his time starting a family. (Manning and his wife, Abby McGrew, have four children: Ava, 12, Lucy, 10, Caroline, 8, and Charlie, 5.)

“Chester was there through a lot of things,” he says. “Bringing kids home for the first time and introducing them to the dog and seeing that reaction. He was by my side as I'm writing speeches when I'm retiring from football. He sat at my feet every night as I was studying film for the Giants for many years.”

<p>Gary Gershoff/Getty Images</p> Thomas Panek, Ten and Eli Manning

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Thomas Panek, Ten and Eli Manning

Related: Eli Manning Cherishes 'Car Time' with His Kids on the Way to Practices: 'Been a Lot of Fun' (Exclusive)

Eli says he and his retired quarterback brother, Peyton Manning, are both big dog people.

“Peyton's had a bunch of dogs over the years — usually multiple in the house,” he says. “[We] love going out for a jog or run with them or just going out and playing fetch. We can throw it pretty far so we usually have a good game of fetch with the dogs.”

Eli weighed in on which dog breeds best represent him and his famous sibling, with whom he hosts the popular ESPN show ManningCast.

“Chester was a King Charles Cavalier, which is a pretty chill dog,” he says. “And I think I might have that personality a little bit more. And very relaxed and stay at home and just hang out and don't need too much work involved.”

As for Peyton, he says, “Oh, pit bull, I guess.”

Eli and Panek agreed that current NFL star Travis Kelce’s dog breed would be a shepherd.

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Super Bowl LVIII is almost here, and Eli shared his picks for what teams will take the field on Feb 11.

“I'm going with Detroit and Baltimore making the Super Bowl,” he predicts.

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