He was born in Texas and had no Western New York roots. Yet Ezra Castro became attached to the Buffalo Bills and, as part of his passionate support for the pro football team, became the superfan character Pancho Billa. Castro passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 39 in his home state of Texas after battling stage four cancer, his family announced.
Castro, who was born in El Paso, later relocated to Dallas but had quickly won the hearts of Western New York-based Bills fans through his character, which wore a Buffalo Bills-themed luchador wrestling mask and sombrero.
His frequent posts included the hashtag #ViVaLosBills and, as he battled his illness, also included #PanchoPower. A children's book inspired by "Pancho Power" is scheduled for release this summer.
His family announced Castro's passing on his Twitter account:
Our hearts broken as we have lost our dear brother ezra "Pancho Billa" this morning. We are thankful and forever grateful for all the love and support during this journey. Ezra was surrounded by family and loved ones. At this time we ask for privacy as we mourn our loss.
— Pancho Billa (@PanchoBilla1) May 14, 2019
Tributes to the Bills fan came quickly, including a message from the Bills on its Twitter account: "A Bills fan through-and-through, and an inspiration to us all. Pancho Billa, we’ll miss you. #VivaLosBills #BillsMafia."
The team's co-owner Kim Pegula offered her own statement as well:
Pancho was a pillar of positive strength and energy for me and all of #BillsMafia. He’s been a tremendous inspiration for our team. I was fortunate enough to spend time with him and get to know his story. My heart goes out to his children, friends and family. Viva Los Bills! pic.twitter.com/UFBVMjMWDd
— Kim Pegula (@KimPegula) May 14, 2019
Castro explained his attachment to the Bills was born when his father urged him to adopt a football team. As a tribute to his Mexican-American heritage, he sought teams whose colors would come closest to the colors of the Mexican flag. The Bills, with their blue, red and white, offered two of the three colors. His father and brother, meanwhile, became Dallas Cowboys fans.
He adopted his character based on Mexican reolutionary general Francisco "Pancho" Villa and in addition to the mask and sombrero created a costume featuring a poncho, a bandolier and leather arm guards.
He was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2017. The following April, the Buffalo Bills invited Castro to the stage at the 2018 NFL Draft so he could help them announce the team's third round pick, Harrison Phillips.
Pancho Billa is a Bills super fan who is battling cancer.
He got called to the stage to help his favorite team announce an NFL Draft pick. pic.twitter.com/DtC9RI03LQ
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 28, 2018
Castro was invited to join the Bills at this year's NFL Draft but was forced to cancel his travel to Nashville due to declining health. He did, however, participate by calling in the team's first round pick, Ed Oliver, from his hospital bed.
Matt Sabuda, who provides Bills analysis for WBFO, says Castro represented the best of sports fandom.
"Ezra was emblematic of what the Bills fanbase is all about. It's that sense of community and fun," Sabuda said. "He's somebody who certainly will be missed."