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Tough luck : Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the rise of the modern NFL
2019
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"In the long annals of sports and crime, no story compares to the one that engulfed the Luckman family in 1935. As eighteen-year-old Sid Luckman made headlines across New York City for his football exploits at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, his father, Meyer Luckman, was making headlines in the same papers for a very different reason: the gangland murder of his own brother-in-law. Amazingly, after Sid became a star at Columbia and then led the Chicago Bears to multiple NFL championships, all whileMeyer wasted away in Sing Sing, the connection between sports celebrity son and mobster father was ignored by the press and then overlooked for eight decades. Tough Luck traces two historic developments connected by a single immigrant family in Depression-era New York: the rise of the National Football League through the dynastic Chicago Bears, whose famed owner George Halas convinced Sid Luckman to help him turn the sluggish game of pro football into America's favorite pastime; and the demise-triggered by Meyer Luckman's crime-of the Brooklyn labor rackets and of Louis Lepke's infamous organization Murder Inc. Filled with colorful characters-from ambitious district attorney turned governor Thomas Dewey and legendary columnist Walter Winchell, to Sid Luckman's rival quarterback "Slingin'" Sammy Baugh; from hit men like "Tick Tock" Tannenbaum, to Sid's powerful post-career friends Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio-Tough Luck unforgettably evokes an era of vicious Brooklyn mobsters and undefeated Monsters of the Midway, a time when the media kept their mouths shut and the soft-spoken son of a murderer could become a beloved Hall of Fame legend with a hidden past"-- - (Baker & Taylor)

Traces the connection, overlooked by media at the time, of Sid Luckman, a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback in Chicago and his father, Meyer Luckman, who served 20 years in Sing Sing for the gangland murder of his own brother-in-law. - (Baker & Taylor)

A remarkable tale of a golden son and his disgraced father, layered over the unforgettable era of Brooklyn mobsters and the rise of the National Football League - (Perseus Publishing)

In the long annals of sports and crime, no story compares to the one that engulfed the Luckman family in 1935. As 18-year-old Sid Luckman made headlines across New York City for his high school football exploits at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, his father, Meyer Luckman, was making headlines in the same papers for a very different reason: the gangland murder of his own brother-in-law. Amazingly, when Sid became a star at Columbia and a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback in Chicago, all of it while Meyer Luckman served 20-years-to-life in Sing Sing Prison, the connection between sports celebrity son and mobster father was studiously ignored by the press and ultimately overlooked for eight decades.

Tough Luck traces two simultaneous historical developments through a single immigrant family in Depression-era New York: the rise of the National Football League led by the dynastic Chicago Bears, whose famed owner George Halas convinced Sid Luckman to help him turn the sluggish game of pro football into America’s favorite pastime; and the demise—triggered by Meyer Luckman’s crime and initial coverup—of the Brooklyn labor rackets and Louis Lepke’s infamous organization Murder, Inc. Filled with colorful characters—from ambitious district attorney-turned-governor Thomas Dewey and legendary columnist Walter Winchell, to Sid Luckman’s rival quarterback “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh and pro football’s unsung intellectual genius Clark Shaughnessy; from the lethal Lepke and hit men like “Tick Tock” Tannenbaum, to Sid’s powerful post-career friends Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio—Tough Luck memorably evokes an era of vicious Brooklyn mobsters and undefeated Monsters of the Midway, a time when the media kept their mouths shut and the soft-spoken son of a murderer could become a beloved legend with a hidden past.

- (Perseus Publishing)

Author Biography

R. D. Rosen’s many books include recent nonfiction that connects America’s past and present, including A Buffalo in the House: The True Story of a Man, an Animal, and the American West and Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors. He won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for his first of five mystery novels featuring retired Jewish major league baseball player-turned-detective Harvey Blissberg, and has written about sports for many national publications. He has served as a senior editor for both ESPN Books and Workman Publishing, and once upon a time wrote or performed comedy for PBS, HBO, and Saturday Night Live. He grew up across the street from Sid Luckman in Highland Park, Illinois, and lives in New York, where he still roots for the Chicago Bears. - (Perseus Publishing)

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Booklist Reviews

Sid Luckman, the first of the great NFL quarterbacks, came to Chicago from Columbia University in the late thirties and led the Bears to multiple championships over the next decade. His arrival coincided with Bears owner and coach George Halas' revitalization of the T formation, which was much more amenable to the passing game than the single-wing formation that it replaced. But for all Luckman's success, a very dark cloud hung over his life. His father, Meyer, was convicted in a brutal murder in 1935 and spent the rest of his life in prison. He never saw his famous son play a single moment in either college or the pros. Rosen, who has written mysteries and served as an editor with ESPN, focuses on Luckman's football exploits but also looks at organized crime in the thirties and forties and Meyer Luckman's involvement in it, noting how the story of Luckman's family was buried by the press, which was then more interested in promoting heroes than reporting scandals. A fascinating book that is sure to be popular as the NFL approaches its 100th anniversary. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Booklist Reviews

Sid Luckman, the first of the great NFL quarterbacks, came to Chicago from Columbia University in the late thirties and led the Bears to multiple championships over the next decade. His arrival coincided with Bears owner and coach George Halas' revitalization of the T formation, which was much more amenable to the passing game than the single-wing formation that it replaced. But for all Luckman's success, a very dark cloud hung over his life. His father, Meyer, was convicted in a brutal murder in 1935 and spent the rest of his life in prison. He never saw his famous son play a single moment in either college or the pros. Rosen, who has written mysteries and served as an editor with ESPN, focuses on Luckman's football exploits but also looks at organized crime in the thirties and forties and Meyer Luckman's involvement in it, noting how the story of Luckman's family was buried by the press, which was then more interested in promoting heroes than reporting scandals. A fascinating book that is sure to be popular as the NFL approaches its 100th anniversary. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

In 1935, Meyer Luckman, a minor affiliate of the New York mafia, was convicted of the murder of his wife's brother for siphoning money from the Luckman trucking business to cover gambling debts. Luckman's son Sid was then a football star at Columbia University, and the national press shielded his identity from the lurid tale splashed across several newspapers at the time. In the courtroom, Sid's maternal grandfather denounced Meyer as a murderer, and Meyer was sent to prison. Sid's mother never spoke to or about her husband again in the aftermath of her brother's death. Throughout Sid's career with the Chicago Bears, the story vanished; even in Luckman's 1949 autobiography, the only mention of his father was that he had died. Here, Rosen (Such Good Girls) fleshes out the full saga in this lively biography of the Hall of Fame player and successful businessman. Rosen delves not only into the lives of the Luckman family but also into the history of crime boss Lepke Buchalter and his Murder Inc. organization that began to unravel shortly after the murder. Rosen's assessment is that Sid lived a life of generosity at least partly as atonement for his father's sins. VERDICT A terrific read that should draw interest from all general nonfiction readers.—John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ.-Camden Lib., NJ

Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

PW Annex Reviews

A journalist brings to light a dark family secret of a player who helped create the modern game of football. A passionate Chicago Bears fan and former neighbor of the team's great quarterback Sid Luckman of the 1940s, Rosen (Such Good Girls) couldn't believe that Luckman's dad, Meyer, had gone to prison for the murder of his own brother-in-law in 1935—and almost no one had reported the connection. Digging into the sordid crime, Rosen ties Meyer to Louis Lepke, head of the mafia organization known as Murder Inc., as he parallels Meyer's demise with his son's rise from Brooklyn Prep star to first round pick. While the Bears won four NFL championships with him at the helm, Luckman's biggest impact on the game was running the T formation, which transformed the NFL from a low-scoring, brutal game to a pass-heavy, high-scoring affair that became America's most popular sport. With great research and storytelling, Rosen brings to life Depression-era New York and WWII-era Chicago in a wonderful family saga that will captivate history and sports fan alike. (Sept.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Quarterback Next Door 1(10)
1 Hog-Tied and Trussed
11(7)
2 The Erasmus Terror
18(10)
3 One Heartless Tangle
28(15)
4 A Worrisome Gent
43(7)
5 Specialized Persuasions
50(11)
6 A Good Future in Trucking
61(22)
7 Up the River
83(6)
8 Captive City
89(10)
9 A Fast Passing Game
99(14)
10 Runaround
113(8)
11 Rookie
121(8)
12 They All Laughed
129(10)
13 Whiners, Crybabies, and Quitters
139(11)
14 Barrage
150(9)
15 Temptations
159(9)
16 High-Priced Help
168(5)
17 Another Botched Job
173(7)
18 Almost to a T
180(10)
19 With a Thud
190(7)
20 Casualties
197(9)
21 A Surprising Comment
206(7)
22 Last Dance
213(10)
23 Bingo Keep It
223(9)
24 A Congestion of Quarterbacks
232(10)
25 Gifts
242(13)
26 Secrets
255(7)
27 Who Do You Think You Are, Sid Luckman?
262(13)
Postgame Commentary and Acknowledgments 275(8)
Selected Notes 283(8)
Bibliography 291(4)
Index 295

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