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on September 9, 2013
I was surprised two previous reviewers did not especially like this book. I no longer follow professional football but I recall practically every name mentioned in this time period. I thought the chapters on the gambling charges against Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were well done and I didn't expect any new revelations. This took place prior to the start of the 1963 season along with the tragic death of Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb from heroin with the details remaining murky.

There is a concentration on the rivalry between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers as Coach George Halas of the Bears was determined to wrest away the championship from Vince Lombardi's Packers. The Bears opened the season with a 10-3 victory in Green Bay over the Packers. I remember attending this game with my uncle. The only games the Packers lost that year were the two they played against the Bears.

One of the criticisms of the book from the two previous reviewers was the over-emphasis of play-by-play from the Bears championship game against the New York Giants. I, too, thought this was over-done. I don't like this in baseball books and I did notice it to be true here, also. However, I enjoyed the book enough to not let this detract from my rating of five stars.

In addition to the gambling and death of Lipscomb prior to the start of the season the assassination of President Kennedy brought more tragedy followed by Commissioner Pete Rozelle's controversial decision to play the games that following Sunday.

The year 1963 proved to be Coach George Halas's last championship. The Bears had their high hopes for a repeat performance in 1964 dashed in July with the tragic deaths of Willie Galimore and John Farrington in a car accident at their training facility in Indiana. The team never recovered from this devastating blow and finished with a 5-9 record. Even the Packers were not restored to the championship with the return of Hornung with the Cleveland Browns grabbing the title that year.

The epilogue was very well done beginning with the deaths of Galimore and Farrinngton and then relating the rise of three consecutive championships in 1965-1967 for Lombardi's Packers. The author mentions those who have passed on in the ensuing years of those involved in this story. The book brought back many memories of those players I remember and the mortality of us all. I even remembered the name of Tom Yewcic who had a sip of one cup of coffee with the Detroit Tigers in 1957. In addition I thank you author Lew Freedman for providing us with a book containing no profanities. At least to this reviewer you hit a home run in this book on football's season of 1963.
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VINE VOICEon September 3, 2013
It was only a half century ago but professional football was a very different sport from the one we recognize today. The newly formed American Football League competed with the NFL signing players out of college but the Super Bowl had not yet been invented. More importantly, "pro football ranked lower in popularity on the American sports scene than baseball, horse-racing, boxing and college football." Author Lev Freeman focuses on the Chicago Bears pursuit of the NFL title in 1963. But he has a lot of additional raw material to work with including gambling scandals, the death of one of the best players in the game, the opening of the Hall of Fame, competition with the AFL over college players and the NFL's decision to play on the weekend following JFK's assassination.

As an older fan, I looked forward to publication of Clouds Over the Goalpost but was disappointed by the book. My primary problem is the way it is packaged and marketed. Clouds has little to do with gambling and assassination. Gambling refers to the suspension of Paul Horning and Alex Karras for betting on games. Freeman deals with this in an early chapter, adding little information to a story that is fairly well known. It is difficult to determine whether the assassination in the title refers to the demise of "Big Daddy" Lipscomb or the death of the President during the football season. Freeman discusses the controversy over whether Lipscomb died of a drug overdose or was murdered by the underworld in chapter 3. When the author finishes this chapter, the book is less than one quarter complete and we have heard the last of gambling and assassination (other than that of the president) in the NFL.

My other issue with Freeman is the pedestrian, and often careless, writing style he brings to the text. He mentions that Pete Rozelle found the manner in which "Big Daddy" died to be "unseemly." In the very next sentence, Freeman says "having a star player's death be associated with drug-taking was unseemly." In the same chapter, he explains how opposing players tried to even the playing field with the physically imposing Lipscomb: "that often led to illegal tactics, such as holding. If they couldn't stop Lipscomb from stomping their quarterback legally, they'd rely on illegal tactics." After a lengthy, blow by blow description of the Bears dramatic opening day victory over NFL champion Green Bay, Freeman concludes with a not quite incisive analysis by one of players: "'They beat us,' said Green Bay center Jim Ringo."

The pacing of Freeman's narrative is a bit erratic. There is an awkward inclusion of the events surrounding the killing of President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. While this helps establish the context for Pete Rozelle's unfortunate decision to play football during that tragic weekend, the level of detail provided is unnecessary for the reader. Freeman also delivers a virtual play-by-play of the 1963 championship game between the Bears and Giants. The game is important but less than exciting and most of the names will be unrecognizable to the modern reader or casual fan.

I applaud the author for his conversations with some of the surviving players from 1963. He lists 17 interviews including stars like Ditka, Hornung, Starr and Keith Lincoln, outstanding players from the time who are not remembered today such as Bear linebacker Joe Fortunato and a few obscure performers like back-up Patriot QB Tommy Yewcic. Even here, however, Freeman is constrained by the value provided in his discussions which is sometimes negligible. When asked to comment on the Giants loss in the title game to the Bears (the third New York failure in as many years against the West), Coach Allie Sherman replies, "We could have won it but we didn't"

There are larger than life personalities on display here including Coaches George Halas, Vince Lombardi and Al Davis; players Bart Starr, Jim Brown and George Blanda and enough forgotten names from the past (Ernie Ladd, Erich Barnes, Cookie Gilchrist) to keep older fans satisfied. The problem is that the writing does not match the level of the events being described. This could explain the decision to oversell gambling and assassination. It may have been a good idea out of a sports writer's playbook to revisit 1963 fifty years later on the eve of a new season. Unfortunately, the execution in Clouds over the Goalpost is lacking.
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on May 17, 2015
This is a very readable story for Chicago Bear fans. Not so much for Green Bay Packer fans.

The story circles around George Halas, by 1963 a curmudgeonly relic, who his Hall of Fame tight end once described as someone who throws nickels around as if they were man-hole covers. Ditka always was eminently quotable.

In the midst of a Packer dynasty, led by Vince Lombardi, George Halas decided the Bear franchise was due a requiem. He had put together a defense similar to the one Ditka would Coach twenty three years later. The legendary defense was led by Doug Atkins, a renegade future Hall of Fame Defensive End. Also a trio of linebackers who were smart, savvy and dominant.

Halas dicta moving into the season was to defeat the Packers twice, and the season started as planned, with a 10-3 victory. It continued, with Bears winning there first six games. Halas had moved through many capable quarterbacks over the years, discarding even future hall of Famer George Blanda. For the 1963 season, Bill Wade took the helm as signal caller. Wade was a 33 year old veteran journeyman, who had mostly rode the pines with the Rams in prior seasons. Egos were not as rife in the early 1960's, and when Wade faltered, the capable Rudy Bukich stepped in.

The Packers ended their season 11-2-1, only good enough for second place. Maybe never in the history of the NFL has a team that good not made the playoffs.

This was a cornucopia of personalities, as any team is, who made a push to the top. Told along the backdrop of the encroaching AFL, and the assassination of John F Kennedy, it paints a still fresh picture of an NFL that is long gone.
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on June 8, 2014
All Bears, Packers, Giants and Lions fans of sufficient age have a profound memory of the 1963 football season, and there is some great inside information in this book, but Lew Freedman tells a compelling story poorly. His writing style is ponderous and pedestrian, with frequent repetition (the score and location of the first Bears/Packers game that season are repeated ad nauseum) and recurrent sloppiness -- even some prominent players' names are misspelled, which is unforgiveable for a sports journalist. The so-called "clouds" involving Karras, Hornung and Lipscomb are explored with little depth. And the thrilling championship game is described with all the panache of the average radio weather report ("Ronnie Bull then ran left for two yards"... YAWN...). Read this for the info, but do not expect to be well entertained.
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on September 7, 2013
Similar to the other reviewer, I was expecting more coverage of off the field events in the book based on its title. The parts on gambling, the JFK assassination and Big Daddy Lipscomb's death were well worth the read, as were the deep dives on Halas and Lombardi, but those parts were fairly limited. The rest of the book chronicles the 63 season and would have been better if it were about 1/2 as long. Too much detailed game coverage and too much repetition and bouncing around from year to year and team to team. By the time I got to the epilogue, which was actually one of the better parts of the book, I had come close to losing interest in finishing it. If you're looking for a good NFL history book, I would start with NFL Year One before picking this up.
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on November 19, 2013
big disappointment. poorly written. very little regarding the suspensions of Alex Karas and Paul Hournung. very little regarding the decision to play on despite Kennedy's assassination. too much chicago bears. not enough new york giants.
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on October 22, 2013
The NFL played on in 1963 even after the assassination. Money does drive a lot of things including the NFL, Las Vegas, and all
the bookmakers.
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on December 19, 2015
Very Happy Shipped Fast
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on January 29, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. It give a great perspective on how the game evolved in the 60's. It gives both a broad perspective and facinating details about the players and teams.
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