Sports make us feel like we know people we’ve never met. They also make us grieve for someone we never will. Ezra Castro will always embody the passion we should have for life in general, football in particular, and the Buffalo Bills most specifically. We know PanchoBilla’s not-so-secret identity, as a superhero of a fan remains with us even though he’s no longer with us.
If there’s a most clever fan nickname, I haven’t heard it. Just picturing the bandolier and sombrero combining for a sweet look brings comfort during a tough time. And his mask is as iconic in our group as Batman’s cowl. The luchador vibe appropriately conveyed Ezra’s passion for his team, as the Mafia might contain the only partisans more enthusiastic than Mexican wrestling fans.
Geography doesn’t define us. The most ardent fan of a team singularly identified with Buffalo was a Texan born in El Paso who lived not far from AT&T Stadium. We can be eternally grateful that he didn’t align with the Cowboys. Many Bills fans were born into this. Ezra chose to join us. Fate often deals lousy hands, but we can play the cards in our possession.
It’s remarkable what brings us together. Take how Ezra liking the Bills colors as a child spurred a lifelong dedication to our favorite side clad in red, white, and blue. Life often decides on our behalf, which makes what we get to choose even more valuable.
Be glad to cheer for a team that realized how unique Ezra’s impact was. The Bills having him announce two draft picks stands as an acknowledgment of commitment that carries even more significance at this mournful time. We will always recall him contributing to team history, especially the selection he phoned in from hospice that should motivate us during relatively trifling challenges.
Thank the Bills for bringing someone we’d otherwise never have known about into our lives. Games create profound connections in their simplicity. We like the action and have common ground with everyone who feels likewise.
Following teams brings together people from divergent backgrounds. Passing someone walking through Delaware Park also wearing a Bills cap means we already share one thing. The common ground in joy and disappointment brought Ezra into our sphere. We can feel fortunate through what now brings sorrow.
It’s redundant to note how cruel cancer is but important to remember. The arbitrary nature is the only thing that makes it even more awful. One 39-year-old can be healthy as another is stricken by a terminal disease far too early.
Life is full of undeserved burdens. Our legacies amount to how we cope with unfairness. Those outside Pancho’s family hoped the news wasn’t as bad as it sounded. We wished someone who embodied the best of our crew would pull through. After learning the sad result, we can always bring to mind Ezra’s zeal for the purportedly nonessential parts of life that add all its significance.
The frustrations of being a Bills fan seem both trivial and apt right now. Those who cheer for a Shakespearian mess of a franchise are the last people who deserve to endure loss and woe. Fidelity is often met with indifference or ineptness. But unfavorable conditions shouldn’t deter us from pursuing what we find stimulating.
Sports don’t seem important in the grand scheme. Yet this is also a time when they mean more than usual, as they reflect our chosen devotions. Being hurt shouldn’t stop us. Pancho didn’t remove his Bills mask on the frequent occasions when his beloved club missed the playoffs.
We shouldn’t need losing the biggest fan among us to appreciate our health and those who we care about. But any example is helpful. I’m hoping New Era Field’s stands will be dominated by Mexican wrestling masks and Pancho Power t-shirts this year.
Any homage serves as evidence that Ezra will always be associated with our fan base. Of course we’ll miss having him around. The pain of absence shows how so much remains out of our control. We can only cheer for our team and each other.
An honorary Buffalonian will inspire fellow backers to remain fervent. Ezra is like so many athletes he admired who are permanently connected to the Queen City. They moved from elsewhere for work while he visited when not cheering from afar in his place of residence. All found their home no matter their birthplaces.
It feels like someone who illustrated how to make hours meaningful was deprived of decades. A lethal illness for someone in his fourth decade is a cruel reminder that injustice is the order of the day. But Ezra lived intensely even before learning of his diagnosis. Using his example to care deeply about anything worthwhile is the best tribute. PanchoBilla wasn’t larger than life: life should be that large.
Editor’s babble: Beautiful tribute for a beautiful man. Thanks to Anthony Bialy for the wonderful contributions he makes for our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @AnthonyBialy.