George Curtis cannot speak.

After a lifetime of cracking jokes and attending to athletes, including 20 years as the head athletic trainer at BYU, his body cannot deliver words any more, the result of an illness similar to Lou Gehrig's disease — progressive supranuclear palsy.

If the staff of Utah Valley Specialty Hospital in Provo could hear Curtis speak, he'd be working them more than he already has with his Blackberry, a notebook and pen.

His sarcasm is legendary. To athletes, his heart is bottomless.

On Friday, with 48 hours notice, hospital administrator Marie Prothero learned firsthand just how many people Curtis has influenced over the years when she hosted a barbecue for Curtis on the hospital's back patio.

More than 150 showed up. They included former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, former players Chad Lewis, Gabe Reid, Reno Mahe, Dustin Johnson and Eddie Keele. With more notice, a roster would have included Ty Detmer, Steve Young, John Beck and about any other Cougar star from any era.

Current players Max Hall, Austin Collie, David Nixon, Jan Jorgensen, Matt Bauman, Bryce Mahuika, Travis Bright and Kurt McEuen were present, too.

"It says something about these players' love for George when these current BYU athletes, who have this, their only weekend off of the season, take time to be here," said UVSH speech therapist Lindsay Heiselbetz.

Then, Heiselbetz announced the party had turned into a fundraiser to buy Curtis a computer that could speak for him. Totally surprised, Curtis buried his face in his hands and openly wept.

It's been a tough month for Curtis. He missed his 82-year-old mother's funeral in Kansas City in August when, hours after her death and with an airline ticket in hand, Curtis developed an infection in one of his two artificial knees. Taking massive doses of antibiotics injected directly into his heart, doctors removed his metal knee joint and inserted a spacer.

Curtis has been hospitalized since Aug. 28.

When Curtis has his artificial knee replaced after the infection is gone, it will be his 61st surgery in 61 years. As a trainer, aside from his famous chili and scones and horse rides, when he treated athletes, they liked the fact he'd probably experienced their ailment, bruise or scar.

"George always had us working fast and furious, pushing us," said Lewis, a former All-NFL tight end with Philadelphia and St. Louis. "We love you George, and we know if you could talk, you'd tell us you love us too."

A savings account to help with Curtis' expenses has been set up at all Utah Community Credit Union offices under the George Curtis Fund.

One thing is certain, even though Curtis' prognosis is unclear: A lot of folks have his back.

This week's predictions:

San Diego State 21, Idaho 14: The Aztecs have to win this game to see a little daylight as the MWC's worst team before facing a whole slate of tough games.

New Mexico State 24, New Mexico 14: The Lobos might lack the firepower on offense now that their starting QB is out for the season. Can defense win games? Ask TCU.

Wyoming 14, Bowling Green 10: Can the Cowboys rebound from the 44-0 thrashing in Provo? Joe Glenn hopes so and proclaims he'll unleash things nobody's seen before. OK, Joe, let's see.

Utah 46, Weber State 9: This score will be whatever Kyle Whittingham decides is a proper accounting for a nationally ranked team.

Cal 24, Colorado State 14: This should be a good game, but it might be far-fetched to ask the Rams to carry the MWC's banner in dominance over the Pac-10 of late.

UNLV 28, Nevada 21: If the Rebels have made a step forward after beating ASU, we'll see proof in this game against an in-state rival that has tagged them time and time again.

Oklahoma 34, TCU 10: The Horned Frogs can shake up the college football world with an upset. But don't count on it. After this week, Oklahoma might be No. 1.

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