Dad visits site of Penn State son's famous kick
Because of a whimsical detour, Jack and Jean Fayak's 485-mile return home to Rostraver from Highland, Ind., turned into a journey down Memory Lane to one of the most memorable moments in college football history.
"We had been on the road about a half-hour, maybe 45 minutes when we saw the first road sign alerting us that South Bend wasn't far ahead," Fayak said. "I asked my wife, 'What do you think• Do you want to stop there?' She said OK, and it wasn't long before we were in South Bend after exiting the interstate."
The Fayaks had been in Highland for the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of John and Neva Lenhart. Among other area guests at the banquet for Lenhart, a North Charleroi native, and his wife were his brother, Jim Lenhart, Carl Witmyer, Don Baker and John Hisiro.
"We had a great time, it was like a reunion," Fayak said. "John and Neva are wonderful people, and it was so nice to share that special moment in their lives with longtime friends."
Little did the Fayaks know that they also would be trading memories about an event that took place nearly 20 years earlier. It was on Nov. 17, 1990, that their son, Craig Fayak, a freshman, kicked a 34-yard field goal to give Penn State University a 24-21 victory over previously unbeaten (10-0-0) and No. 1 ranked Notre Dame at South Bend.
"We couldn't go to that game because of my work schedule," Jack Fayak recalled. "So, like millions of other college football fans, we watched the game on ESPN. I've always thought it would be nice to visit Notre Dame's stadium and perhaps go to the spot where (Craig) kicked the field goal."
The fabled campus was relatively quiet as the Fayaks pulled into the parking lot. They took numerous pictures, including several in front of the statue affectionately known as "Touchdown Jesus."
"We finally got to the stadium, but it was closed," Fayak said. "We walked all around the facility, but every gate or entrance was locked. I kept looking inside at those goal posts and thinking how much we'd like to get on the field."
Just as they were about to give up, a door opened and out walked "a large man dressed in Notre Dame gear," Fayak said.
"He said hello and asked if he could be of help," Fayak said. "I explained what we were trying to accomplish, said the situation was rather unique and could I tell him our story. He smiled and said, 'Go ahead, give it a try. I think I've heard them all.' "
I explained to him that our son had kicked a field goal at Notre Dame to win a big game for Penn State in 1990," Fayak said. "Before I could go on, he stopped me and said, 'You're Mr. Fayak, right?' I said, 'Yes,' and he invited us into the stadium. I couldn't believe our good fortune.
"As we entered (the stadium), this very accommodating man asked, 'Do you know who I am?' He had not introduced himself earlier, so I said we didn't. He said, 'My name is Robert Thomas.' "
It was Thomas who provided the foundation for the character known as "Fortune" in the inspirational sports film "Rudy" in 1993.
Veteran actor Charles S. Dutton portrayed Thomas in the film about Daniel F. "Rudy" Ruettiger, a walk-on football player at Notre Dame. It was Thomas -- or Fortune -- who took Ruettiger under his wing, gave him a place to stay and provided him with a job with the grounds-keeping crew. Thomas is now superintendent of athletic facilities at Notre Dame.
"He couldn't have been nicer," Fayak said of Thomas. "He walked us around the stadium and took us to the field. We marched off 34 yards from the end zone to where Craig had kicked that field goal, and I got chills up and down my body. We will be forever grateful to (Thomas)."
Fayak said Thomas told him that he was at the opposite end of the stadium when Penn State lined up for the 1990 field goal with only six seconds left on the clock.
"He said he was in the other tunnel leading to the field and knew as soon as Craig kicked the ball that it was going through the uprights," Fayak said. "He said he turned away from the field but knew from the roar of the crowd, the Penn State fans, that it was good. It was, he said, a crushing blow to the Fighting Irish as it knocked them out of the chase for the national championship."
The 1990 Fighting Irish starters included future NFL players Raghib "The Rocket" Ismail, Ricky Watters, Rick Mirer and Jerome Bettis. The head coach was Lou Holtz, who had guided Notre Dame to a 13-0-0 record and the national championship in 1988.
Craig Fayak, a 1990 graduate of Belle Vernon Area High School, where he starred in football, basketball and baseball, recalls the game with Notre Dame as though it were yesterday and admits the field goal is probably the signature kick of his long career in sports.
"It was indeed the highlight, although I had so many great experiences, and it will always remain with me," said Fayak, a Change Management business consultant living in Bernardsville, N.J. "There's not a Penn Stater that I run into -- literally, around the world -- who doesn't ask me about or refer to me in the context of that kick. My name seems to be synonymous with Penn State-Notre Dame."
Fayak, who previously worked as a health care industry executive, said he once received a photo of "The Kick" in the mail and was asked to autograph it and return it ASAP.
"The man said his 10-year wedding anniversary was coming, and he met his wife celebrating at Penn State after the (1990) Notre Dame game," Fayak said. "He wanted ot have the picture framed and displayed in their family room. It was that 'one moment' that many don't get to experience."
The kick also is preserved on a YouTube video under the heading "Penn State upsets #1 Notre Dame in 1990."
Craig Fayak set numerous kicking and scoring records during his four years at Penn State, and some of them still stand.
Records and acclaim notwithstanding, however, Nov. 1, 2008, might be the most significant date for him at University Park. That's the day Fayak and his wife, the former Nicole Dunning, a New Jersey native, were married and had their reception at Beaver Stadium.
Among those in the wedding party were Craig's brother, Jack Fayak; longtime friend George Milkent, of Belle Vernon; and Kyle Brady, Fayak's college roommate, who was a tight end in the NFL for 13 years with the New York Jets, Jacksonville and New England.