The assistant reported the matter to Paterno, who told officials that Sandusky was "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature."
In possibly the worst version of Whisper Down the Lane ever, athletic director Tim Curley subsequently deemed the episode "horsing around."
Rape, horsing around. Why not characterize the episode as tickling?
Calls were made, an internal report filed, but outside authorities were never called.
This wasn't the first time.
In 1998, Sandusky's illicit behavior was observed and investigated by Penn State officials, actions Sandusky actually acknowledged.
That was 13 years and who knows how many young boys ago.
As with the Catholic Church's priest scandals, Sandusky's alleged hideous actions and the inexcusable inaction on the part of Penn State's administration occurred in an all-male, cloistered, and hierarchical community where the authority of top officials is never questioned and the reputation of a moneyed institution, venerated by the faithful, takes precedence over morality and the law.
According to Scott Paterno, his father never spoke about the allegations to Sandusky, an assistant for 32 years.
Seven of the eight juvenile victims reported that Sandusky engaged in criminal sexual behavior on campus property.
What happened at Penn State stayed at Penn State, all secrets sacred in the temple of football.
The rationalization appears to be that Sandusky had retired from coaching - even though he continued to "mentor" foster children from "absent or dysfunctional families" while enjoying full access to Penn State's facilities.
Loyalty was to the football program, not the well-being of young children.
"This has been as hard on Joe as anything I've ever seen him endure in the sense of trying to come to grips with 'How did this happen?' " Paterno's son said.
"When he was first told this [in 2002], he was 75. This was so far from what he could possibly conceive of. You come back to him now, he's 84. It's so outside of what he can even imagine."
Let's get this straight. Papa Joe, at 84, isn't too old to coach football. He's just too old to comprehend or deal with alleged illegal and immoral acts in his locker room.
"This guy grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting and wanted to live in one in State College," Scott Paterno said.
It's a little too late for that.
Horrors happen. The goal should be to stop them from happening again.
Penn State president Graham Spanier, a family therapist by training, should have been sensitive to charges of sexual abuse.
Instead, he pledged "unconditional support" for Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, the pair charged with failing to report the crimes and lying to the grand jury.
Meanwhile, Sandusky's lawyer argued that his client has "helped thousands of kids. It's just a shame this comes down to this stuff."
So many grown men protecting each other in the service of football, money, and reputation. The school's alma mater pledges, "May no act of ours bring shame."
At Penn State, in the nation's second-largest stadium, football is the holy church, the almighty.
And all these men, these football-worshipping men, are complicit in their silence and the anguish they might have spared so many innocent young boys.
Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @kheller on Twitter. Read her past columns at www.philly.com/KarenHeller.