An offensive lineman’s main job in football is to protect, whether it’s for a quarterback sitting in the pocket or a running back hoping to break out for a big gain.
For former New England Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, it’s only fitting that he would transition from defending New England’s most famous asset, quarterback Tom Brady, to helping protect those impacted by cancer all around New England.
Andruzzi and his wife, Jen, are at the reins of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, an organization committed to providing help for New England cancer patients and their families by contributing financial support when it is needed most.
For Andruzzi, the work began all the way back in 2003 in a year that served as evidence for the beginning of the Patriots dynasty, and as part of the inspiration behind the three-time Super Bowl champion’s new mission in life.
“We became friends with a young boy, we always were attached at the groups, organizations,” Andruzzi said. “Started a fund to raise money for brain cancer research in honor of a young boy who had passed away, and God works in funny ways. A year later, I’m calling that doctor for my own health. I spent 50-plus days in the hospital, and it wasn’t fun. To see the people around me, the people it affects. My wife, kids, our families, everybody steps up.”
Andruzzi was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma in 2007, ending his football career. Just like his numerous victories as part of the Patriots offensive line, Andruzzi went on to beat the disease, and used it as motivation to start the foundation with his wife.
“When Joe was sick in the hospital for 50-plus days, I really kind of saw another side of cancer,” Jen Andruzzi said. “A cost of cancer that people don’t really see. From parking at the hospital to co-pays, to medications that you have to bring home with you and they’re not given in treatment facilities. My eyes opened in a new way, and that really was the motivation to start the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, but also serve a niche that, really after doing research, there wasn’t a lot of attention around.”
The Joe Andruzzi Foundation has been intact for 11 years, providing grants to help with rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and other household expenses for families who struggle with the cost of cancer. As of March 2019, the organization had 10,000 grants officially under their belts.
“Being able to support those in financial difficulties has been very rewarding for us,” Andruzzi said. “We just gave out our 10,000th check a few months ago, and there’s 10,000 more down the road. We love being a part of it and love paying it forward.”
The group has received support from numerous familiar faces throughout the years, including some of Andruzzi’s former Patriots teammates from his 10-year NFL career.
“I was fortunate enough to play in the NFL for 10 years,” Andruzzi said. “The support is great. You couldn’t do it without all the supporters. The alumni and current guys, the guys I got to know. Former player Nate Solder went through cancer himself, and his son battles, too. There’s a lot of great support. People know the foundation, and they know what we do, and we’re helping those that are in need.”
Recently, the organization held an event at the Night Shift Brewery’s Lovejoy Wharf location as part of the “Hop Over” event series, meeting their supporters and raising money in a unique way.
“We’re 11 years old and we have great supporters that have been with us, many from inception,” Jen Andruzzi said. “As the need grows, we need to grow our network. For us to be here, meet new people in a fun atmosphere where they have a beer and they grab an appetizer, and we get to tell them, ‘You’re helping a patient pay for their mortgage. You’re helping them pay to keep their lights on.’ That’s huge.”
Just like the Patriots hope to continue their success in the 2019 season after a Super Bowl LIII-winning campaign, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation has goals of its own for the future. With a golf tournament in the future and numerous other events in the works, the work never stops for Andruzzi, his wife and the rest of the organization.
“I’m going to lose a lot of golf balls myself in the future, but it’s all about going out and having a good time and spreading the word about the foundation,” Andruzzi said. “Staying upbeat, positive, keep smiling. I just came from a cancer event, and telling people to smile everyday. Laughter is their best medicine.”
When you’re a three-time Super Bowl champion, you’ve already created a legacy that many would work their entire lives for. For Andruzzi, his championship rings were just the start in what has turned into an impactful life.