Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Tough Luck

Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL

by R. D. Rosen

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

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date September 22, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5736-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date September 03, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2944-4
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date September 03, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4711-0
  • US List Price $27.00

About the Book

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.


“Remarkable . . . Artfully organized and deeply researched . . . This [secret] is finally being told, respectfully and stylishly.”—Chicago Tribune

“One of the pleasures of this biography is its salting with quaint details of American life from not so long ago. Of course, most of these focus on football: the days before stadium phones, when a coach high in the stands would wrap a note around a rock and heave it down to his team.”—Wall Street Journal

Tough Luck is Luckman’s story, and a great deal more . . . A fascinating story of the NFL, its growth, and one of its star players. And it is more than just a sports biography . . . Rosen’s history is wonderful reading for a wide audience.”—Illinois Times

“[A] 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 his murder . . . A terrific read that should draw interest from all general nonfiction readers.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“An intriguing, long-overlooked tale from the annals of early professional football . . . Vigorous storytelling at the intersection of sports and crime history.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Brings to light a dark family secret of a player who helped to create the modern game of football . . . 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 fans alike.”—Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating book that is sure to be popular as the NFL approaches its 100th anniversary.”Booklist

Tough Luck is a fascinating must read for anyone who loves good history, the NFL, and is interested in the price of fame. It is compelling as the journey of a great athlete from an unusual background. His past could never have remained unrevealed in the contemporary world of journalism and social media. Luckman was an iconic figure with amazing friends and a pioneer of the QB position. Highly recommended.”—Leigh Steinberg

“Who could ever imagine that the ascent of professional football in the 1940s and the demise of the rackets in New York City could be told through the lens of one immigrant family! This is a great and beautifully written untold story.”—Gay Talese, author of The Voyeur’s Motel

“As the quarterback of the Chicago Bears in the ’40s, Sid Luckman revolutionized the game, inspired an entire generation of Jewish-Americans and endeared himself to the biggest names in sports and show business. But as R.D. Rosen reveals in this thoughtful, moving biography, the pressure that the gifted and generous Luckman faced from would-be tacklers was nothing compared to his need to outrun the shadow of his father’s criminal past. Simply put, this book is about the greatest reverse play in the history of football.”—Steve Wulf, ESPN

“Rosen artfully blends fascinating tales of the rise of the National Football League with the bloody demise of the mob.”—Bill Geist, author of Lake of the Ozarks

“A magnificent book. A great story, with wonderful insights, about a man I revere.”—Marv Levy, Pro Football Hall of Fame coach

Praise for Such Good Girls

“R. D. Rosen proves a deft chronicler of the uncertainty, upheaval and turmoil experienced by his subjects . . . Most powerful of all, he makes us see how the Holocaust’s hidden children succeeded against the odds not just once, by surviving, but twice, through the resonant new lives they subsequently forged.”Wall Street Journal

“Rosen . . . tells the story of these women and the varied community of survivors with sensitivity and genuine affection.”Library Journal

“R. D. Rosen has performed an essential service to both memory and understanding. The three women at the heart of Such Good Girls have lived remarkable lives, and Rosen has limned them with both empathy and grace.”—Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

“In the always harrowing and inspiring literature of Survival, R. D. Rosen’s Such Good Girls makes a poignant and well-told contribution . . . The ‘good girls’ of this riveting tale pulled off the improbable, which he conveys with talent, warmth, and great humanity.”—Thane Rosenbaum, author of The Golems of Gotham and Second Hand Smoke

“The first book that delves into the lesser-known aspect of children in hiding and the aftermath of the war years. Richly anecdotal, it reveals what it was like to become someone else-for a while-and then back again to whom one was meant to be.”—Myriam Abramowicz, co-director of As If It Were Yesterday

“R. D. Rosen has written about Jewish girls hidden in plain sight during the Holocaust with such compassion and precision that his beautifully crafted words give a new voice to an unspeakable time. Such Good Girls is a story you will not forget.”—Betsy Carter, author of The Puzzle King

Praise for A Buffalo in the House:

“More than a touching man-beast buddy tale . . . Rosen lovingly chronicles the history of an embattled species and its importance in the American West.”Entertainment Weekly

“Riveting . . . From the story of one stray baby bison named Charlie . . . and the family that took him in, Rosen has drawn a sweeping history of the American frontier . . . I can’t remember when I’ve been instructed so gracefully, or entertained to such deep purpose.”New Yorker

“Moving proof of the restorative powers of man’s relationship with nature.”People

“Powerful . . . [Charlie is] one of the most memorable characters in recent nature writing.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“If you’re mad for Marley, elated over Elsa the Lion, [or] rowdy for Rascal . . . stampede out and get A Buffalo in the House.”Huron Daily Trbune