With no home stadium, even Pollard knew his team could not survive. In September 1938 he announced his resignation. His players scattered; Conrad found a coaching job at Delaware State, halfback Joe Mahood opened a funeral home in Brooklyn, Dial headed south to play baseball in the Mexican Industrial League.
Lillard stayed East, playing for various minor league football teams (including the Brooklyn Eagles, for whom he toiled alongside a talented lineman named Vince Lombardi). Lillard seems to have funneled his passion into the game, getting along with his teammates so well that in 1939 he became the first black player to be elected captain of a major mixed-race pro team, the Union City Rams of the American Pro Football Association. He continued playing baseball and basketball, and when his injuries became too much, he did a brief stint in the Army, then settled in Astoria, Queens, where he held various jobs, including one as an assistant manager of an appliance store.
Pollard stayed in Harlem, darting on to the next chapter of his remarkable life. He helped establish a talent agency called Suntan Studios, worked as a tax consultant, produced movies and soundies—predecessors of music videos that played on jukeboxes. He moved to a grand house outside the city and remained connected with the Rockefeller family, attending fund-raisers and speaking for Republican causes. Pollard and Lillard saw each other often; as they grew old, the two men would get together at Pollard's house to share whiskey and memories. By the time Pollard died in 1986, he had publicly acknowledged only one regret: that he was never named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Knowing a return to the numbers game could be fatal, Pompez found a new career as another sort of gambler: a baseball scout, for Horace Stoneham's New York Giants. Working his territory—Latin America—Pompez helped sign Felipe, Matty and Jesus Alou, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal. Pompez was the scout who opened the Latin pipeline to the big leagues, and in the early 1970s, not long before he died, he served on the committee that selected Negro leagues players for inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
George Marshall moved his team, which had been renamed the Redskins, to Washington in 1937. His marching bands and halftime spectaculars kept the fans entertained—which was most useful, some pointed out in later years, considering the quality of the team. Marshall finally signed a black player in 1962, under pressure from the Kennedy Administration, and in the following year was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
By the fall of 1938, however, the original Bombers were mostly gone. Those who remained would limp on as a road team for the next few years. The war soon broke out and made all sports seem trivial. The Bombers were mostly forgotten. But they weren't quite finished.
Los Angeles, January 1946. Another meeting, another group of white men talking about football and race. They were known as the Los Angeles County Coliseum Commission, and black Americans considered them the best chance to get a member of their race into the NFL.
The Cleveland Rams, which had moved to L.A., wanted desperately to play in the city-owned Coliseum. Under the Supreme Court's 1896 "separate but equal" ruling, however, governments were required to provide blacks with public facilities comparable with those available to whites. As there was no comparable stadium nearby, a few activists—sports-writers mostly—had argued that the commission was bound to either build a 103,000-capacity stadium for blacks or require the Rams to open their roster.
There were other factors working in the activists' favor, not the least of which was the local popularity of former UCLA football stars Kenny Washington and Woody Strode and the looming presence of their college teammate, Jackie Robinson, who'd been signed to a major league contract three months earlier. But even the most optimistic activist could not have predicted what would happen next. At the Coliseum Commission meeting a loud voice from the press area asked to speak.
Heads turned to see a rotund black man with a baby face. His name was Halley Harding; the former Brown Bombers running back had gone West and landed a job with a black weekly, the Los Angeles Tribune.