FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Joe Andruzzi knows the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, is approaching, as surely as he knows his wife Jen’s birthday or their wedding anniversary.

He doesn’t need to be reminded, although in the next week or so, he surely will be.

You see, as much as Sept. 11 has become a national day of healing and remembrance, it is a very personal day to the Andruzzi family.

Because on that morning nearly 10 years ago in New York City, three Andruzzi brothers were among the firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center devastation.

One, Jim, was in the North Tower when the South Tower collapsed. He evacuated with seconds to spare.

So when Joe Andruzzi was asked to attend the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the New York Giants Thursday night at Gillette Stadium along with his three brothers to help recognize the 10th anniversary of that day, he couldn’t refuse.

“It seems like yesterday,” said Andruzzi. “A lot of memories 10 years ago.”

It was important to Andruzzi that his brothers — Jim, Mike and Bill — were with him. They were there 10 years ago when the NFL resumed play 12 days after the terrorist attacks. Then, they were wearing their firefighter uniforms. Thursday, they were all wearing No. 63 Andruzzi jerseys.

“They are my heroes,” he said. “I look up to them. They run into burning buildings when everyone else is trying to run out. It’s a tough job, but they love doing it.”

The Andruzzi family gets together often on Sept. 11. This year may be difficult, with various memorials and celebrations planned for the New York City fire department.

But they have all been invited by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to attend the New York Jets’ game on Sept. 11, the opening day of the NFL season. The league plans to recognize the significance of the date at every game.

Andruzzi, who won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots from 2000-05, has become an iconic figure in the NFL’s remembrance. On the day the NFL resumed in 2001, he led the Patriots onto the field, holding tiny American flags in each hand.

“It was an in-the-moment thing,” said Andruzzi, wearing an “MHK” pin on his jersey in memory of the late Myra Kraft, wife of team owner Robert Kraft. “I didn’t plan on grabbing any flags or anything like that.

“Butterflies were bigger than ever that day. I was very quiet that week, it was a tough time in my life, my family’s life.

“To be there together for that weekend, to have my dad and my brothers honored out there … I’ll never forget running out, coming through that tunnel and seeing two flags taped to the wall. I grabbed both and ran out on the field. It was one of those moments that I will never forget.”

Andruzzi has spoken about that day many times, how he found out about the attack during a visit to the dentist, how he went five or six hours without knowing anything about the fate of his brothers, how Jim barely got out of the South Tower.

He doesn’t tire of the subject because, he said, “We don’t want people to forget.”

These days, he is mostly involved with the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which provides financial support for cancer patients and their families.

In 2007, Andruzzi was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma. He had his last treatment on Aug. 8, 2007, and is in remission, looking remarkably fit, almost as if he could step into his spot at left guard for the Patriots.

But, he said, “My foundation is my life … there’s a lot of families out there who are struggling together. If we can step in and relieve a little bit of burden, it’s a great feeling.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH