“He lives inside of his own heart. That’s an awful big place to live in.”
That quote from the movie Sling Blade has been an inspiration to people for years but there is one man that truly captured the beauty and the essence of those words so perfectly, it almost seemed to have been written about him. That man was Buffalo Bills Superfan Ezra Castro, most famously known as “Pancho Billa.”
Today, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer and surrounded by close family and friends, Pancho Billa passed away. His family released this statement over 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
Ezra became the face of Bills fans in just a short period of time. Having no connections to Buffalo and living his entire life in Texas, he started rooting for the Buffalo Bills because the team colors are the closest to that of the Mexican flag, and they are the colors of America. Attending Bills games or the local Bills Backers Bar (he was president of the local chapter) decked out in his sombrero, pancho, and specially designed mask, every fan could pick him out in the crowd.
Ezra’s expansive collection of Bills memorabilia can be seen displayed throughout his home. His long-time girlfriend, Veronica, and their children accepted that the Buffalo Bills were a part of the very fabric of Pancho Billa and, in turn, he was a part of the Buffalo Bills. Pancho Billa was Bills Mafia.
And I think, "Why the hell do I feel so connected to a guy I've never met?"— Michael Tracy (@DistractedMan) March 26, 2019
It's because he represents us all, as a fan base, as an honorary brother, as the hearty, indomitable spirit of the Western New Yorker.
He *IS* #BILLSMAFIA.
Plain and simple.
When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, everyone was devastated. How could such a gentle soul with a massive heart have something so completely awful happen to him? Fans, players, coaches and staff members of the Bills all reached out to Ezra to show their support and love for him.
No matter how many tests or rounds of chemotherapy, how much he hurt or how fatigued he felt, Pancho was always there to spread positivity and give love back to the fans and team.
He attended every event and game he could, both in Texas and away and in 2018, he was able to be at the 2018 NFL Draft to announce the Bills’ third-round draft pick, Harrison Phillips. After he finally had a formal introduction to Phillips at last year’s training camp, the two remained close friends.
Pancho Billa is a Bills super fan who is battling cancer.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 28, 2018
He got called to the stage to help his favorite team announce an NFL Draft pick. pic.twitter.com/DtC9RI03LQ
The team was so taken with Ezra that they had him deliver a pregame speech at a team meeting back in November. His words touched the entire room so deeply that they went on to beat the New York Jets 41-10 the next day.
He's an inspiration to so many and it's a moment we'll never forget.— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 11, 2018
Coach McDermott invited @PanchoBilla1 to deliver a special pregame message at our team meeting last night. #PanchoPower #VivaLosBills pic.twitter.com/P5a6J58KZ7
On November 27, 2018, just a few weeks after his incredible speech to the team, Pancho Billa became a member of the BFLO Hall of Fame Experience Fan Wall of Fame.
The @BfloExperience will also have a fan Wall of Fame - first person to be honored is @PanchoBilla1! @WKBW @26shirts @buffalobills @BillsBackers @BillsBackersUK @TheBillsMafia #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/bAzT0D5afV— Katie Morse (@KatieMorseNews) November 27, 2018
For the 2019 NFL draft, former Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson was chosen to announce their third-round draft pick but he offered that opportunity to Pancho Billa instead.
Honored to have been chosen by the @NFL to rep @buffalobills during draft, but want to offer it to @PanchoBilla1; with all he’s going through on his fight with cancer. He’s the heart and soul of #billsmafia— STVN (@StevieJohnson13) April 13, 2019
Unfortunately, Ezra’s health had deteriorated and he needed to be placed in hospice care. Although he couldn’t be there, the Bills still wanted Pancho to be involved so they decided to call him in his hospital room to let him make their first-round pick for them. Terry Pegula, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane all choked back tears as he stated “The fight’s not over and I’m gonna keep fighting like the Buffalo Bills.”
Shortly after, first-round pick Ed Oliver decided to surprise Pancho Billa by visiting him in the hospital.
One of Ezra’s wishes was that at his funeral, instead of flowers, people would bring backpacks filled with school supplies for kids. Again, his heart was a very big place to live.
“I don’t want flowers at my funeral. I hate flowers. I want people to bring backpacks-for-kids filled with school supplies.”— Jonah Javad (@JonahJavad) May 14, 2019
Pancho Billa was well-known as a fan.
Ezra Castro was best-known as a kind, generous soul who saw the good in everything.
#PanchoPower Forever. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/FoAqkmwpVP
Heading into this season, Bills fans everywhere will be missing an integral part of their family. Pancho Billa’s infectious laugh and warm smile, thoughtful words and overall genuineness will live on for generations. He will become an ultimate legend of Bills fandom, one that our great-grandchildren will tell stories about. We love you Pancho and will carry you with us every game day.
Viva Los Bills.