Earnest Jackson applied a little extra body English as he simulated a gambler reaching for the arm of a slot machine.
Jackson’s gesture came in response to a question about where he had spent the weekend. A moment earlier, he had confided that he left San Diego for two days to collect his thoughts because of the suspicion he was about to be traded by the Chargers.
After returning from a visit with friends in Las Vegas, Jackson unplugged his phone and it took a rap on the door from fellow running back Buford McGee to let him know the coaches were trying to contact him.
So it was that at 9:30 Monday morning Jackson, who led the AFC in rushing with a team-record 1,179 yards last year, learned his intuition had been correct and he had been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a couple of draft choices.
The trade fueled speculation about the imminent signing of running back Gary Anderson of the Tampa Bay Bandits, who has been courted by the Chargers all summer.
The Jackson deal was only part of a busy day for the Chargers, who also sent wide receiver Bobby Duckworth to the Los Angeles Rams for offensive lineman Gary Kowalski and a draft pick.
In addition to trading their top runner and their speediest pass catcher, the Chargers took steps to reduce their roster to 45 players, in compliance with NFL guidelines. Waived were backup quarterback Bruce Mathison, offensive lineman Ken Dallafior, tight end Bret Pearson and defensive end Terry Jackson.
Placed on injured reserve were linebacker Shane Nelson and offensive guard Bill Searcey.
The elimination of Mathison meant the No. 2 quarterback job falls to Mark Herrmann, who won the spot despite playing only one half of football in the exhibition season.
Herrmann played effectively in the second half of Friday night’s 21-20 win over the New Orleans Saints after relieving Mathison at the start of the third quarter.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Coach Don Coryell said. “But we need experience at that position. We liked Mathison and we had tried to jam as much experience as we could into the preseason, but it was almost impossible to do.
“Herrmann showed he could come off the bench, with very little practice time, and play well. Our backup quarterback doesn’t get much practice time during the regular season, so it’s important to have a man who can fall back on his experience.”
The Herrmann-Mathison duel, which had been at the forefront of developments in the last 10 days, became almost secondary news with the trading of Jackson and Duckworth.
The Chargers unloaded Jackson for several reasons, including the development of rookies Curtis Adams and Anthony Steels, the need for immediate help in the offensive line and the realization Jackson’s marketability would never be greater.
Although Jackson is a solid, dependable straight-ahead runner, he lacks outside speed and the ability to catch the ball as a short receiver.
He had experienced a mediocre training camp and had sensed his days with the Chargers were numbered.
“I had a feeling in my body,” he said Monday morning. “It was whisper, whisper all the time, plus there has been so much talk about Gary Anderson.
“I really didn’t feel a part of the offense the last few weeks. But my confidence and pride are not hurt at all, and I’m not going to be trying to prove anything to the Chargers.”
Aside from a few friends on the Chargers, Jackson said he wasn’t leaving much in San Diego.
He is, however, leaving a team in a state of flux.
The Chargers are gearing their offense to the presence of a big blocking back (Tim Spencer) and a cadre of smaller, faster, more versatile backs, such as Adams and Steels. If and when Anderson arrives, he would add the running/receiving threat the Chargers covet in the continuing absence of tight end Kellen Winslow, recuperating from a knee injury.
The offensive line, long a stable unit, has been caught up in the transition this summer with the arrival of No. 1 draft choice Jim Lachey, along with a newcomer from the USFL, Jerry Doerger, and now, Kowalski.
The Rams had no pressing need for Kowalski because of the depth of their line, which includes Irv Pankey, Jackie Slater and Bill Bain at offensive tackle.
The Chargers became interested in Kowalski (6-feet 5-inches, 290 pounds) during a scrimmage against the Rams very early in training camp, according to chief scout Ron Nay.
“We’ve been pursuing him all along,” Nay said. “He blocked some of our defensive linemen better than our own players had been doing.
“It took us a little while because he got nicked up a little bit and the Rams weren’t sure where he fit in their plans. They wanted to get the best deal they could for him . . . He’s going to upgrade our depth even if he doesn’t start for us.”
Kowalski, a third-year pro from Boston College, was a second-round draft pick by the Rams in 1983. He played in 15 games that year on field goal and conversion teams, but missed all of last season with a knee injury.
The Chargers gained a total of three draft picks in Tuesday’s deals, with two of them in the 1986 draft, which Nay said should be the equal of the strong 1983 draft.
“It’s going to be deep in quarterbacks, running backs and sizable linemen,” Nay said. “It’s going to be a good year to have some extra choices, and we have to make up for some of the years we traded away our picks.”
Nay did not attempt to downgrade the ability of either Jackson, a Pro Bowl selection and the team’s most marketable runner, or Duckworth, a deep threat who can’t be replaced immediately.
But, he said, the development of Adams in particular makes the Chargers comfortable with their present arsenal of running backs. Among the receivers, there is not anyone who has the speed to stretch a zone as Duckworth could do, but there is promise in newcomer Trumaine Johnson.
Nay, who has come to be recognized as owner Alex Spanos’ chief adviser, said he thinks the Chargers can have a winning season despite the flurry of activity to rebuild the club.
“I know we’re going to be better,” he said, “but we still have to be patient with some of our young players, especially in the secondary.
“I think we’re a rebuilt team that can still be considered a contender. We have a chance to win this year. Dan Fouts gives us that. I think we will win this year, and have a good future, too.”