FOXBORO - For 12-year-old Anthony Visconti of Mansfield, Monday night's "New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer" event was more than an opportunity to meet past and present members of the New England Patriots and get autographs.
"My mom has cancer, so I want them to find a cure," the Qualters Middle School seventh-grader said. "I think it's important and I'm happy that so many other people think so, too."
Almost 1,000 people packed into the main ballroom at Christina's on Route 1 to attend the third annual event hosted by former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi and his wife, Jen. It was the largest turnout to date.
"This is outrageous. There are wall-to-wall people here," a clearly moved Andruzzi said as he shook hands, signed autographs and posed for pictures with friends and fans before the formal presentation and live auction commenced.
"The money we raise will help increase awareness and bring this foundation to a new level so we can help more people, more families," he said.
The Joe Andruzzi Foundation was started after the former offensive lineman waged a lengthy battle with Burkitt's lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He has been cancer-free for more than three years.
For the third year in a row, WEEI sports talk show host Dale Arnold was the master of ceremonies. Also in attendance were many of Andruzzi's former teammates - and some Patriots with whom he didn't play.
"I came after he had left the team, but Joe's been helping out with the training in the off season and I've gotten to know him," kicker Stephen Gostkowski said. "Everyone thinks so highly of Joe and it's hard not to support a foundation with a cause like this."
"I admire him," said linebacker Matt Chatham, a former teammate. "We all admire him and what he is doing."
Mansfield's Sam Goldberg, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Qualters Middle School, said he was "pretty happy" to have a football signed by several of the players who attended Monday night's event.
"I'm getting a lot of autographs," he said. "But the real reason I'm here is to help fight cancer."
His older brother, Charlie, 12, who, like Sam is friends with the Aundruzzi's son, Hunter, said he was happy "so much money was being raised because cancer is something that should be cured. It's affecting a lot of people - a lot of people who have a lot more birthdays to celebrate."