Penn State Football: At Rudy’s Tavern, James Franklin Was On a (Pork) Roll
EAST STROUDSBURG – It was just after two on Wednesday afternoon when the big blue bus stopped at the corner of Day and Washington streets, just off of South Courtland.
Since 1930, through one fire and just two owners, that corner has been the location of Rudy’s Tavern, just to the west of the East Stroudsburg University campus.
Wearing a dark suit and a diagonally-striped blue and white tie with matching pocket square, James Franklin stepped out of the bus and led his entourage of about 20 or so inside the quintessentially dark and woody neighborhood bar.
If the Penn State football coach acted like he’d been there before, it’s because he has.
Rudy’s opens at seven in the morning, so by the time Franklin brought in his Coaches Caravan cadre, long gone were the overnight shift nurses and factory workers and cops who end their workday with a Pork Roll Sandwich ($3.25) or a Sausage Patty Sandwich ($2.45) – often topped with an egg and usually washed down with a couple of beers (8 oz. Pabst draft, 65 cents; 16 oz. Yuengling Lager, $1.50).
The lunch crowd came and went as well. On Wednesday, it featured a host of regulars, a mix of retired folks and a youngish quartet that was holding its own wake (Smirnoff Ice, $3.00) after a funeral. Still marinating and not yet available were the “whole chicken breasts” for a Franklin favorite, the Cajun Chicken Sandwich ($5.00). It didn’t seem like anyone had ordered the Liverwurst Sandwich ($3.25).
“And that guy over there,” said Lenny Orehek, a bartender at Rudy’s since graduating from East Stroudsburg in 1985 with a degree in elementary education, as he pointed across the bar. “He played for the Jets. In ’69! No … I don’t know his name.”
"A REGULAR GUY"
But Lenny knew James. Only like for the past two decades. “He was a good quarterback,” Lenny said. “Crazy good. Had a lot of records until that (Jimmy) Terwilliger kid broke ’em all.”
Rudy’s is six minutes from Eiler-Martin Stadium, where Franklin played as the starting quarterback for East Stroudsburg in 1993-94. And Rudy’s is a convenient two blocks from Phi Sigma Kappa, where Franklin – and Lenny, a decade earlier – was a member. What kind of frat was it, Lenny is asked. He smiles. “Social.”
While Langhorne in suburban Philadelphia will always be Franklin’s downtown, East Stroudsburg University molded him and challenged him and gave him opportunity. “East Stroudsburg had a huge impact on who I am and on my growth, both personally and professionally,” Franklin said after visiting Rudy’s. “Those people were really good to me. I’m very, very appreciative of the time I had there. It had a profound impact on me.”
For Franklin, Rudy’s – owned by former ESU football player Denny Deardorff, who was willed the bar by the original Rudy, and now managed by daughter Kelly -- always kept him grounded. Still does.
“You have places that kind of remind you of home or remind you of a time in your life and Rudy’s is that kind of place,” Franklin said. “Literally the same bartenders have been there since I went to college. Same people. You have the college bars where the students go. You have the bars in a college town where the older people go. Then you have those few college bars where everybody kind of goes to. There’s a mix of everybody, and that’s the kind of mix Rudy’s always has.”
When Franklin is in town, a stop at Rudy’s is always on the to-do list. Even now. He usually stops by with his bald-headed best buddy, ESU offensive line coach Mike Santella. Like the night of NCAA basketball game in March, when he and Santella sat on the north side of the bar. Or, the Friday night before Franklin delivered a pair of commencement addresses a few weeks ago, when he and Santella sat on the south side of the bar. The next day, Franklin gave a shout-out to Rudy’s. Twice.
“He’s a just a regular guy. A really nice guy,” said Kelly Deardorff. “When he came in when he was coaching at that place down south … uh, uh, Vanderbilt … I had no idea who he was. He didn’t act like he was different than anyone else. Now, people ask him for a photo and he’s great about it.”
Which leads us – and Franklin – back to the stop on Wednesday.
It was his idea to hit Rudy’s on the way to the Caravan’s next event, in Bethlehem. So it’s only right that Franklin picked up the tab. (It takes him about three hours at Penn State to equal the $1,200 a year he made coaching wide receivers at Kutztown.) At Rudy’s, you pay in cash. No credit cards, no debit cards. Just like it was when the place opened 84 years ago as a Prohibition-era candy shop that made a quick change once the 18th Amendment was repealed. Just like when Franklin turned 21 about 21 years ago.
Franklin had to show off Rudy’s, say high to his friends and treat everyone to a pork sandwich with cheese and a big sliding hunk of fried onion. He made sure everyone used a lot of mustard, too.
“It was awesome,” he said and he really meant it. “I had two, but I shouldn’t have.” Franklin called an audible and had stayed away from The Super ($2.50) – “a hot dog with cheese in the middle and wrapped in bacon.” For good reason: “I’m trying to eat healthier.”
He chuckled. Then he got serious. “Stroudsburg is like a lot of communities throughout Pennsylvania. It hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Franklin said, then recounted a bit.
“Of course, there have been some changes, but Rudy’s has not changed. Same bartenders working there, the same menu.”
And as the gang at Rudy’s can attest, the same James Franklin.