ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) - Bills owner Kim Pegula said Pancho Billa, who she got to know well during his fight with cancer, was a pillar of positive strength and energy throughout.
Ezra Castro, whose masked Pancho persona won over Bills fans, died Tuesday after weeks of reports that his health was declining.
"He really was more than just a fan, he really was a part of this organization," Pegula said inside the team's practice facility.
Since beginning cancer treatment in December 2017, Castro developed personal relationships with several Bills players and personnel. He, perhaps, had the closest relationship with Harrison Phillips. At the 2018 NFL Draft, it was Castro who announced Phillips' name on the draft floor.
"The people who supported me the most were my mom, dad, and sister," Phillips said after learning of Castro's passing. "The next person in line, it goes to Pancho."
Pegula lauded Castro's commitment to the organization, even as he battled cancer. Never too sick to check up on his team, Castro last visited Buffalo in December 2018 for a game against Detroit. He became the first inductee in the Buffalo Fan Wall of Fame that day.
Bills General Manager Brandon Beane learned the news on a phone call with Castro's girlfriend, Veronica.
"It's just tough," Beane said. "It was an emotional call. You can't say a whole lot. You just try and give her your support."
"With as much excitement as we typically have this time of year, it's a bit somber," Head Coach Sean McDermott said of the mood at One Bills Drive on Tuesday.
McDermott thought so highly of Castro, he asked him to speak to the team before a game against the Jets in 2018. Now, the coach says the organization will continue to support Castro through his family.