As a player, Joe Andruzzi was a legendarily tough offensive lineman, someone who had to be dragged from the lineup. In his five seasons with the Patriots, he started 72 of a possible 80 regular-season games, including every game in each of New England’s three Super Bowl-winning seasons.
“He’s a real hard worker,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Andruzzi during his playing days. “You won’t find anyone who works harder than Joe Andruzzi. There have been days when he’s barely able to walk and he’s out there practicing. Three or four days later, he starts on the offensive line. It’s amazing.
“He’s just a tough, tough football player.”
In his post-playing days, Andruzzi has brought that same grit to his battle with cancer. A survivor of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, he’s helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of cancer research. He’ll continue that fight Monday night when the Joe Andruzzi Foundation will host the second Annual New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer at Christina’s Monday night in Foxboro. (For ticket and event information, click here or call 508-838-8198.)
“The Foundation is committed to helping others fight the toughest fight of their lives,” he said. “My family and I are grateful for the care that I received and want to help others. Since we started the Foundation last year, we have met some wonderful families, doctors and researchers who are making a difference in the fight against cancer.”
The Andruzzi family had been a strong supporter of measures to help those with cancer before the former Patriot fell ill. In 2001, the family of C.J. Buckley — a teenage Patriots fan with inoperable brain cancer — approached Andruzzi to see if the Patriots could do anything for Buckley. Andruzzi brought him to training camp, introduced him to the team during practice and got him a bunch of autographs. As a result, Buckley and his family became extended family members to the Andruzzi’s.
Buckley passed away a year-and-a-half after the Andruzzi’s came into their lives, but Joe and his wife Jen successfully launched the C.J. Buckley Brain Cancer Research Fund at Children’s Hospital in 2003. Since, the fund has raised more than $500,000 for families who need help battling the disease.
Five years later, with Joe undergoing chemo, they continued their work, starting the Joe Andruzzi Foundation in 2008 with the goal of helping to provide assistance to cancer institutes, patients and caregivers to help ease the burden cancer treatment places on lives. Monday marks the fourth event hosted by the Foundation. Since its inception, the Foundation has raised $300,000.
“If I can help just one person, it goes a long way,” Andruzzi said. “Last year was our first one — we had over 75 people there, and were able to raise a lot of money for a good cause. This year, we’re looking to make it bigger and better.”
A number of local athletes and celebrities are scheduled to attend Monday, including Tom Brady, Ray Bourque, Luis Tiant as well as many members of the current Patriots roster. Andruzzi hasn’t been shy about enlisting the services of his former teammates, including offensive linemen Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur, all of whom are members of the honorary committee.
“It’s great that they take part,” Andruzzi said. “They know me as a player, a lot of them. You try and make them understand I was in their shoes — I was finishing my 10th year in the league and trying to start my 11th when I was knocked to the ground by this disease.”
Going forward, he will continue to do whatever it takes to do his part to try and raise funds to beat the disease. If that means flashing a few Super Bowl rings, then so be it.
“If I can use my status as a Super Bowl champion from the Patriots and raise awareness and as much funds as we can,” he said, “then it’s all worth it.”