HARRISBURG - It started with an inspirational football movie - "Rudy"? "Remember the Titans"? - on a Friday evening in March 2002.

Mike McQueary, then a 27-year-old Penn State grad assistant, watched it at his State College townhouse and was motivated to drive to his campus office 6 miles away to look at tapes of football recruits.

It was there, he says, he heard rhythmic "slapping sounds" from a locker room and saw former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky naked in the shower, standing behind a naked boy, his arms "wrapped around" the boy's waist, "having some type of intercourse."

That was part of McQueary's 2-hour testimony yesterday at a preliminary hearing in Dauphin County Court for two former PSU officials charged with covering up the child-sex scandal that led to their firing and the dismissal of iconic head coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier.

Now, following yesterday's 4 1/2-hour-plus hearing, former athletic director Tim Curley and former PSU senior vice president Gary Schultz are headed to trial on charges that they lied to a state grand jury and failed to report a crime against a child.

Sandusky, on Tuesday, waived his own preliminary hearing on charges he sexually abused 10 boys. He also is headed to trial.

Yesterday, the red-haired McQueary, a State College native, former PSU quarterback and current assistant coach - the linchpin of the case against Sandusky, et al - was unshakable on the stand.

He said he told Paterno, without being explicit "out of respect" for the coach, that he witnessed a sexual act. He said he told Curley and Schultz that he saw Sandusky being "extremely sexual" with the boy.

Paterno, he said, slumped in his chair, was "shocked and saddened," and told him, "I need to think . . . [and] tell some people what you saw."

Curley and Schultz, McQueary said, told him they'd investigate.

So, despite reports that McQueary's story isn't always consistent because of emails to friends or statements to others, he stuck to his sworn grand-jury testimony and could not be shaken by defense attorneys arguing for Curley and Schultz.

He was asked if he had been drinking that Friday night in 2002. "No," he said. He was asked if Sandusky had an erection. "I don't know," he said.

He was asked if the boy had pubic hair. "I don't think," he said.

He repeatedly described what he saw and heard and said "there's no question in my mind" that Paterno, Curley and Schultz understood that he saw Sandusky with a prepubescent boy in acts of a sexual nature.

He said he didn't contact police because when he spoke with Schultz, whose duties included overseeing the university police department, "I thought I was talking to the head of the police."

He excused his own inaction in confronting Sandusky at the time or taking the boy away, saying he was "shocked" and "not thinking straight."

If McQueary bears guilt or fault for not doing more, the testimony yesterday made it clear that he's not alone.

Thomas Harmon was head of PSU's police department in 2002. No one contacted him following the shower allegations, he testified, despite the fact Sandusky was investigated by his department in 1998 for a similar allegation.

(No charges were ever filed in that case.)

Anthony Sassano, an agent with the state Attorney General's Office, testified that the '02 shower incident never was reported to any child-protection service or law-enforcement agency.

And when the grand-jury testimonies of Curley and Schultz were read into the record, both were replete with "I can't recall specifics," references to hearing Sandusky was involved in "horseplay" and "clowning around" with a boy in a shower, and "we had no indication a crime had occurred."

It occurred to me there would be no motive for a young grad assistant to make this story up, but there would be significant motive, given what's happened, to cover this story up.

Curley's attorney, Caroline Roberto, of Pittsburgh, argued that perjury charges require corroboration and claimed the prosecution has none beyond McQueary's testimony - essentially one man's word against two men.

"The evidence is insufficient to hold this for court," she said.

But there was never a doubt that a case of this magnitude with this level of interlocking questions was headed for trial. And at the end of the hearing, District Judge William Wenner ordered just that.

I had no access to McQueary. The media was seated in the courtroom. McQueary entered and left without stopping so I couldn't ask what movie he watched. I asked the Attorney General's Office. Two spokesmen said they don't know.

But I'm still working on it. Because whatever it was, it started a story with enough impact that it's likely to one day become a movie of its own.

Send email to baerj@phillynews.com