The Buffalo Bills honored the life of Ezra “Pancho Billa” Castro on Sunday ahead of the home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
During a pregame ceremony at New Era Field, team owners Terry and Kim Pegula presented game balls and No. 19 Bills jerseys with “Pancho Billa” on the back to members of Castro’s family, including his longtime partner, Veronica Borjon, their 7-year-old son, Gino, and Castro’s mother, Aurora Martinez. Gino was dressed in the familiar, lucha libre-style mask and sombrero his father made famous. His No. 14 jersey read “Panchito” on the back.
A video tribute to Castro played on the stadium Jumbotron, with taped messages delivered by General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott. Fans responded with chants of “Pancho, Pancho!”
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) September 22, 2019
Castro passed away in May after a long fight with cancer. His spirit as he battled the disease inspired all of Bills Mafia, the collective nickname adopted by the team’s ardent base of supporters.
Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips arrived to the stadium wearing a sombrero and embraced Castro's family before the pregame ceremony. Castro had announced Phillips' selection to the Bills at the NFL Draft in Texas in 2018.
The pregame ceremony capped a weekend of tributes to Castro. On Saturday, a tailgate party was held in Hammer’s Lot across Abbott Road from New Era Field, with hundreds of attendees paying their respects.
“He's like the soul of the #BillsMafia," Karen Mosz told The News on Saturday of Pancho Billa.
Sunday’s pregame ceremony also included several children who were the recipients of “Pancho Packs.” After his death, more than $100,000 in donations poured into the Teacher’s Desk in Buffalo, enough to fill more than 10,000 backpacks with school supplies for children in need.
Castro had asked that, in lieu of flowers at his funeral, donations in his memory go to help those in need.