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Happy birthday to Joe Andruzzi, a true Patriot on and off the field

An all-time great Patriot turns 41 today!

When you think about the early 2000s New England Patriots dynasty, the first player names that come to mind are those of the championship winning teams’ superstars. Tom Brady. Tedy Bruschi. Ty Law. Troy Brown. Adam Vinatieri – just to name a few. Players, forever tied to Patriots lore.

Even when you go farther down the list and start thinking about those teams’ offensive linemen, Joe Andruzzi’s name likely won’t be the first to pop into your head. But the guard was there for all three Super Bowl wins; protecting quarterback Tom Brady and paving the way for running backs like Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk.

And today, Andruzzi celebrates his 41st birthday.

But while his play on the field was very good, earned him three championship rings and made him famous in the first place, it is not the sole reason why he should be seen as one of the great Patriots of at least his era. You can’t talk – or, in this particular case, write – about him without mentioning his off-field life and how it impacted him, the Patriots franchise and the Greater Boston area.

Andruzzi, who was born in Brooklyn, was no highly touted prospect entering college and thus ended up playing at tiny Division II Southern Connecticut State. But despite being named division All-American twice, he went undrafted in 1997. Andruzzi first joined the Green Bay Packers, who allocated him to Europe, before bringing him back and releasing him in 2000.

That’s when Bill Belichick called. Andruzzi earned a starting role for the Patriots his first season; one he held for the next five years. During that time, he became a mainstay on the team’s offensive line – and in the community. Andruzzi supported various charitable organizations while in New England and was the recipient of the first Ron Burton Community Service Award.

In 2007, after two years with the Cleveland Browns, Andruzzi was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Burkitt’s lymphoma, which ended his football career and forced him to undergo treatment for the next year. After completing treatment, he founded the Joe Andruzzi Foundation in 2008, which assists cancer patients “in treatment and their families by assisting with rent or mortgage, utilities or other household expenses during what can be the most stressful and challenging time of their lives.”

The now-41-year old is used to helping people.

He helped the NFL and the Patriots overcome the off-week forced by 9/11; entering Foxboro Stadium with two U.S. flags in his hands and joining his three brothers – all New York City firefighters – for the commemorative coin toss. He also helped during the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, notably carrying an injured woman away from the scene.

Today, Andruzzi celebrates his birthday which gives us an appropriate opportunity to celebrate him as a great member of the Patriots franchise and the New England community; celebrate him for what he did on the field but especially for all that he did off it.

Happy birthday, Joe!