Despite performing otherworldly athletic feats on the playing field, sometimes sports fans and the media can forget professional athletes are just regular people off the field. Athletes have families and lives like everyone else. They also hurt like everyone else.
Patriots Nation had a sad reminder of this with the accidental drowning of Marquise Hill during the Memorial Day weekend and again with the announcement from former New England Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, who on Thursday night revealed he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to a statement issued by his agent, Joe Linta
"While this condition is very serious, both Joe and his doctors feel he will quickly be on his way to a full recovery," Linta said in the release.
I'm saddened to hear this news, not because Andruzzi plays football, but I've seen Joe without his shoulder pads and helmet in civilian clothes. I've seen him play with his kids and his dog and hold his wife's hand.
Joe and Jen Andruzzi were kind enough to have invited me to their home in Mansfield, MA in March of 2004 to discuss a charitable breakfast to raise funds for the Hockomock YMCA. As they began to discuss the event, a "thump" was heard from behind the sofa and a look of concern appeared on the faces of Joe and Jen.
|Former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi poses with his family at home in March 2004. (Photo / Kevin Saleeba)|
While playing with his older brother and sister, the then 20-month-old Thomas Andruzzi fell and bumped his head. Thomas waddled around to the front of the sofa with his face scrunched up in pain.
Joe, the 312-pound starting offensive guard, gently scooped up his son in his large arms and cradled him close to his body holding the toddler near his mother. "Do you want a kiss from Mommy?" said Joe.
Jen kissed her son's forehead and the pain vanished from Thomas' face. Joe placed Thomas back on the floor and the youngster ran again to play with his brother and sister. "Our family is very important to us," said Jen.
It was evident family is important to Andruzzi when he was with the Patriots. Joe and his wife did their best to help local families who were less fortunate. In 2004, they were strong supporters of the Hockomock YMCA's Reach Out for Youth and Families, a program that raised money for area families who are unable to afford memberships and programs at the Hockomock YMCA.
Andruzzi also put his family first after 9/11. Many Patriots fans can remember when football returned to Foxboro following the tragic events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On Sept. 23, 2001, Andruzzi ran out of the locker room tunnel holding an American flag in each hand. It was a highly emotional day for Andruzzi as the horror hit Joe close to home. His three brothers are New York City Firemen.
"One of my brothers was in the building," Joe Andruzzi told the media during a press conference following the terrorist attacks. "So…" Joe paused as he fought back tears, "but he's alright. He got out just in time." It was also heartwarming to see the emotional embrace between Joe and his brothers on the 50 yard line before the game. Joe later bought tickets for 100 New York City Firefighters to attend a game between the Jets and Patriots.
|New England Patriots Joe Andruzzi, right, celebrates with family in the stands after their AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002 in Pittsburgh. The Patriots faced the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002 in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)|
Andruzzi told me his strong family values were instilled in him from his father while growing up in Staten Island, NY. "It's how I've been brought up," he said.
Joe Andruzzi is a family man who just happens to play football for a living. Joe will immediately begin a course of chemotherapy at the Dana Farber Institute in Boston.
"He is being treated by some of the best specialists in the country for his affliction," said Linta. "Joe is confident that he could not be in better hands. He would like to thank all of his fans and friends for the tremendous outpouring of support and prayers.
Let's all hope for a quick and full recovery. Joe and his wife have four children Hunter, Breanna, Thomas and Teresa
Andruzzi was an all-city selection at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, playing both offense and defense. He attended Southern Connecticut State University, where he played every position on the offensive line, and was a starter all four years. He was a Division II All-American his junior and senior year.
Andruzzi was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers in 1997. He was waived by the Packers before the 2000 season and quickly signed with the Patriots where he became a full-time starter for five years, winning three Super Bowl rings with the team. He signed with the Browns as an unrestricted free agent in March of 2005. After battling through injuries in Cleveland to appear in 27 of 32 games, Andruzzi was released by the Browns on May 2, 2007.