SAN DIEGO — The chase ended just as it had to--with a snag.
A noon press conference was called Monday, and the media assembled at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, notebooks, tape recorders and cameras at the ready.
But a last-minute delay in formally announcing the signing of Gary Anderson threatened to leave the Chargers with nothing but sandwiches--and a big jolt of irony--to dispense.
The transaction, which had taken innumerable strange twists over the last six months, was put on hold at the final moment by a balky computer, of all things.
If you've ever encountered a delay in the transfer of funds at your branch bank, you have a sense of what the Chargers and Anderson went through Monday.
The problem was related to Hurricane Gloria, which closed banks in New York last Friday. There was a backup Monday, and a 90-minute delay in getting the money into the proper account.
Anderson, along with his wife, Ollie, and agent, Peter Johnson, could only fidget while the bank got business squared away.
The tenacious pursuit of Anderson by Alex Spanos had reached still another apparent dead end last week when the United States Football League made a bid to pry an extra $150,000 from the Charger owner in addition to the $350,000 he had already promised.
That problem wasn't cleared up until Monday morning. But, after months of making public many of the details of the negotiations, a veil of secrecy was draped around the final developments as both Spanos and Johnson declined to hint at how the deal was concluded.
Far more important from a logistical and emotional standpoint, the Chargers have added a potential superstar at the moment they needed him most.
Anderson isn't going to be asked to replace Dan Fouts, but the Chargers are counting upon him to supply a significant portion of the 300 or so yards the quarterback regularly produced.
As a backup to Mark Herrmann, who has taken over for the injured Fouts, the Chargers signed Babe Laufenberg, a third-year pro who spent 1983 and 1984 with the Washington Redskins, but never played a down. Laufenberg, after being cut by the Redskins last summer, was given a tryout several weeks ago by the Chargers and made a good enough impression that they telephoned him Monday.
How good is Anderson, a multipurpose running back? Well, his agent said an NFL general manager last week predicted Anderson would immediately take his place among the top five backs in the league.
"I have to prove myself," said Anderson (6-feet 185 pounds), who rushed for 2,731 yards, added 1,707 on pass catches and scored 45 touchdowns in three seasons in the USFL.
Anderson is expected to play in this week's game at Seattle, according to Coach Don Coryell, who hardly looked like a man who had just lost the services of an all-pro quarterback for three to six weeks.
"He couldn't be coming to us at a more opportune time," a smiling Coryell said. "He's a breakaway threat, a guy who can go the distance, and very durable and competitive.
"We picked him as one of our No. 1 draft choices (in 1983) because we saw him as a player who could fit into our offense and do the things we wanted."
Anderson signed with the Tampa Bay Bandits after the Chargers included him in a threesome of first-round picks in '83. He has been pursued by the Chargers since, and finally was won over by a four-year, $2-million offer.
"We'll work him into the offense as rapidly as we can," Coryell said. "We just have to be careful not to overwork him in practice."
The temptation to use Anderson right away is heightened by the absence of Fouts and by a minor knee injury suffered by running back Lionel James in Sunday's 21-7 defeat by Cleveland.
Anderson, who has been running, biking and lifting weights, said he feels good but won't know for sure how fit he really is until his first game. The Chargers would like to think he can match the showing of the Rams' Eric Dickerson, whose debut after a long holdout made training camp seem superfluous.
"I'll just play my game and take my lumps," said Anderson, who has a hairdo similar to rock star Prince, but is somewhat less gifted at expressing himself verbally.
"I didn't want to wait anymore," he said. "This last chapter was agonizing. But it's for real this time."
Johnson, his agent, said Anderson's arrival, although three years late, was better than never. He underscored what had been reported in recent weeks, that USFL Commissioner Harry Usher and a couple of owners didn't want Anderson out of their league, at least not without a proper buyout.
Spanos, adding to his horde of ex-USFL stars that includes Tim Spencer and Trumaine Johnson, among others, was exultant.
"Now everyone can leave me alone for a day or two," he said. "Actually, I can't relax for long. I have a lot more to do, finding a quarterback and some help for our defense."
Like Johnson, he declined to say whether he had paid more in the way of a buyout to settle the Anderson deal.