PITTSFORD – If the Buffalo Bills players needed any toughness inspiration on Day One of training camp, they only needed to look to the sidelines to see super-fan Pancho Billa watching from a front-row position at St. John Fisher College.
Ezra Castro, aka Pancho Billa, made his first-ever training camp practice despite the fact he had chemotherapy treatment back home in Dallas on Wednesday.
"Not bad for being off chemo yesterday," said the 39-year-old Castro. "I had No. 12 yesterday. So I have about three more before I get a break."
Castro, president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Bills Backers club, is famous for the outrageous Bills garb he wears to games. He found out last fall that he had stage-four cancer that had attacked his spine and pancreas. He said the technical diagnosis was metastatic adenocarcinoma biliary pancreatic cancer.
He was honored during the NFL Draft in April when Andre Reed and Fred Jackson, on stage to announce the Bills' third-round pick, invited Castro up to the microphone to introduce the selection. Pancho Billa gave an emotional thank you to Bills Mafia and read off the pick: Harrison Phillips of Stanford.
Castro was greeted by Bills General Manager Brandon Beane Thursday.
"He wished me well, told me I represented the organization well at the draft," Castro said. "He said he's been praying for me. He talked about my kids for a bit."
"I told him how I have a voice clip from his press conference on my phone and I listen to it every so often," Castro said, referring to comments Beane made on draft weekend about Pancho Billa. "It's on my play list. All of a sudden it plays. 'Pancho Bill sent chills up and down the spines of everybody in the war room.' "
Castro is upbeat about the progress he has made.
"My spine looks good now," Castro said. "That's where it all started. They removed about a 4-inch mass on my C-7 and replaced two bones. I have 10 screws and a mesh holding my vertebrae together. All my scans of my pancreas look good. . . . It's just I have lesions on my lungs and nodules on my lymph nodes. . . . Pretty much, I'm going to be on something the rest of my life. It's metastasized, so we have to keep it under control, make sure it doesn't spread anywhere else."
"I decided about a month ago" to visit training camp, Castro said. "I said I'm in good health, I'm taking the treatments good. I don't know what I'll be like next year at this time. I'd better go."
He said he plans to attend four games this season, including the home opener against the Chargers.
Phillips spent a long time speaking with Castro after practice and was one of numerous players who signed a Bills jersey for him.
Bills fans have helped Castro reach more than $26,000 of a $30,000 goal in a GoFundMe campaign.