Mia De Los Santos created memories of a lifetime when an American bald eagle landed on a spectator in front of her at the Cotton Bowl Classic game Saturday.
Her brother, Michael De Los Santos II, 20, took his 11-year-old sister to the Notre Dame game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington as her Christmas present with their uncle, Thomas De Los Santos II, 42.
“I will hang on forever” to that memory, Mia said. “It was really shocking it came up that close to us. I don’t know how to explain (what it was like). It was something you don’t get to see every day. It was something that can happen once in a lifetime.”
Thomas De Los Santos said before the game, a professional handler released the eagle to fly around the stadium as a common practice. Normally, the eagle will go straight back to the handler after flying around once, but this time the eagle was feeling friendly.
“(The eagle) came in and everyone was ducking, and it decided to land on this guy’s shoulder. My nephew was right behind him, and he ducked also. It was pretty crazy,” Mia’s uncle said. “(The bird) made like two and a half, maybe three trips around the whole stadium, and halfway on that last trip it decided it wanted to land somewhere.”
The eagle took off from the fan’s shoulder, flew to the next section over and landed on another fan’s arm before being retrieved by security.
“I’ve never seen an eagle that close before,” he said.
The siblings and their uncle made a 10-hour round trip to attend the game in one day and got back home in Victoria about midnight.
“She went right to bed. She was too tired,” Mia’s mom, Monica Strait, said. “This morning when she woke up, she was very chatty about it. When we showed her the ESPN video, she was like in awe. She said they had a great time whether they lost or not.”
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish lost the playoff game to the Clemson Tigers.
Mia plays softball year-round and wants to attend and play softball for the University of Notre Dame, her mom said. Mia also went home from the hospital as a newborn wearing Notre Dame clothes.
“My daughter is an amazing athlete, and whatever she puts her heart to, she can accomplish it,” Strait said. “(Softball) takes dedication and hard work. She loves the sport, and she’s made a lot of awesome friendships on that field.”
Mia’s brother has been a Notre Dame fan for as long as he can remember, he said, and Mia grew up watching her dad and him watch their games. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish rarely play in Texas, Michael De Los Santos said, and he took his sister to her first game last year in San Antonio.
“I told her, ‘If they ever come to Texas again, we’re going to go see them.’ When I found out they were coming, I got tickets. I thought it would be a good Christmas present,” he said. “She was speechless when she found out. She jumped up and gave me a hug.”
Michael De Los Santos was also astonished by the eagle and said he will treasure this memory he shares with his sister.
“That’s something that doesn’t happen to everyone – seeing the eagle,” he said. “That’s a great life story we’ll be able to share and tell our friends and family.”
Kathryn Cargo reports on business and agriculture for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 361-580-6328. Follow her on twitter @kathryncargo.