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  • A rogue bald eagle was the talk of the Cotton Bowl pregame. What was it like for the two Notre Dame fans it made a surprise landing on?
By Ross Dellenger and Laken Litman
December 29, 2018

ARLINGTON, Texas — Albert Armas attempted to duck out of the way as the bird flew toward him. He lowered his head, curling into a standing fetal position, but all that did was give the North American bald eagle a perfect landing spot. Clark, the eagle, softly clenched his talons into Armas’s back, freezing the 42-year-old in place as a crowd of more than 90,000 at AT&T Stadium roared with excitement. “I was scared crapless, ” Armas laughs from his front-row seat in section 328, surrounded by Notre Dame fans like himself. “My family members have already been texting me, ‘You’re famous!’”

Clark was part of a national anthem ceremony preceding Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal between Notre Dame and Clemson. He flew circles around the stadium during the singing of the anthem and was then supposed to land near his handler at a selected spot in the stadium. Instead, he picked Armas’s shoulder and then, moments later, had a second accidental landing two sections over on the outstretched arm of Tuyen Nguyen, a lifelong Irish fan originally from Vietnam. “I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan,” Nguyen says. “When I saw the bird land [on Armas], I thought, the bird had to be very tired. So I put my hand out to see what happens. And it landed on me. It was very interesting. I was very excited. It was amazing. I couldn’t even believe it.”

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Videos and photos of the two unplanned landings went viral before the Irish and Tigers dueled in a No. 2 vs. No. 3 showdown for the right to play for a national title in Santa Clara. For the two men, it was an unexpected bonus of family trips. Nguyen’s wife, Kim, missed the whole thing while in the restroom. That wasn’t the case for Jaysen Armas, Albert’s 13-year-old son who spent the 20 seconds Clark spent on his dad’s back chuckling. “It was pretty funny,” Jaysen says. Albert, from the Los Angeles suburb of La Mirada, surprised his son with $375 tickets to the big game on Christmas morning, an emotional scene he caught on video and was happy to show off. Albert, a devout Catholic, grew up watching the Irish on NBC, something that’s rubbed off on his own son. “It’s awesome,” Jaysen says. “Happy to have a dad like him.”

Ross Dellenger/Sports Illustrated

Nguyen is a Notre Dame season ticketholder who has lived in South Bend for the last 40 years. Nicholas Allison, a 13-year-old Irish fan seated behind Nguyen, got a first-hand viewing of Clark’s landing. “I thought it was going to hurt him because you need those glove things [to handle birds],” he says. “So that’s why I thought it was going to hurt his arm.”

Neither man was injured during the landing, but the aftereffects will surely linger on. Says Nguyen, “I’ve still got goosebumps!”

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