For many football fans who watched the New Orleans Saints rout the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 23, the most unusual thing about the game was the lopsided final score of 62-7.
But for UFO aficionados and paranormal experts who tuned in, they may have seen something in the sky that was even more out-of-the-ordinary than the tossing of more touchdowns vs. incompletions.
As NBC's cameras returned from a commercial break and focused on the historic, triple-steepled St. Louis Cathedral in the city nicknamed the Big Easy, a couple of lit objects seemed to streak across the darkening sky -- and they've yet to be definitively identified.
Viewed in real-time, it's hard to see much more than something flashing across the screen. But a frame-by-frame scrutiny of the video reveals a rod-shaped object topped with brightly lit dots.
Rod-shaped UFOs? Actually, this isn't the first time such objects have been seen and photographed.
In 1994, independent filmmaker Jose Escamilla was attempting to videotape UFOs near Roswell, N.M. -- yes, that Roswell -- home of the legendary, alleged crash of a UFO in 1947 that has captured the imaginations of millions of people for decades.
"As I reviewed one of the tapes, I noticed something streak past my camera viewfinder and thought at first it was just a bird or insect," Escamilla told The Huffington Post.
"Looking at each frame of the footage again, I knew it was something more unusual. My girlfriend at the time called them 'rods' as they sort of looked like some kind of life form you'd see in a microscope."
Since that time, Escamilla has collected hundreds of taped examples from around the world of these so-called rods, which vary in physical form: Some look like centipedes with appendages and others have no appendages but appear to have lights on top of them.
Skeptics maintain there's nothing extraordinary about all of this -- the objects, they say, are merely insects flying very close to the camera lens.
"I think these are insects that got caught in that interlaced video as they're flying through with a wing beat frequency, and the frames are being captured at a frequency... that causes that look," insisted Marc Dantonio, chief photo and video analyst for the Mutual UFO Network.
Dantonio owns FX Models-- a Connecticut company that creates special effects and models for the government. He's one of many investigators who insist that when an object -- moving very fast, like a flying insect -- gets close enough to a camera lens with a slow enough shutter speed, it produces an effect called motion blur, making the insect's wings appear elongated, or rod-shaped.
"They're fascinating, but they're actually quite down to earth," Dantonio said.
But one little frame of the video may be the one little problem that could rule out the insect theory. Amazingly, the frame reveals the mystery object is moving behind one of the cathedral towers. But how could that be if it was only an insect?
"The object is not going behind the cathedral -- it's actually in front of it," Dantonio said. "But because of the saturated CCD [charge-coupled device used in digital imaging], it looks like it's going behind. And when you see those three dots or lights [on the object], I think they're wing beats."
But when Dantonio took a closer look at the single video frame in question, he began to bend a little.
"Yeah, that sure does look weird. I won't say it's not interesting, but I'll tell you right now: I'm sure that there's a conventional explanation and I believe firmly that this is something very close to the camera."
Robert Sheaffer, one of the world's leading UFO skeptics, agrees.
"Every time something flies in front of a camera now it's gonna be a UFO -- little bugs, some little bird, anything," Sheaffer said.
When the arch doubter first looked at the Big Easy video, he immediately assumed the mystery object was an insect. But when Sheaffer -- who was featured at this past weekend's all-skeptics CSIconconference in, coincidentally, New Orleans -- looked more closely at the single "smoking gun" video frame from the cathedral, he admitted it has him a little stumped.
"The first time I watched this thing, I didn't even see that [the rod] was there. Now I'm looking at the part where [the video] is slowing down, slow, slow, zoom, zoom...okay, now I agree -- I see that it pauses right behind the left spire, at least it seems to catch it right behind it, and that building is pretty far away. It really looks like it's going behind."
Another thing adds fuel to the rod fire: Many previous images also show these pesky elongated objects moving in the sky behind things like trees, power poles, buildings, etc. Can all of them be simply explained as tricks or optical illusions resulting in slow camera recording speeds?
"It could be explained as an insect, but what I've found on a lot of footage over the years is that these things do go behind structures, such as this cathedral tower," Escamilla said.
"The camera is not focused up close -- it's focused at infinity. So any insect that would've flown close to the lens would be invisible, it would be an invisible, blurry thing. This thing was in focus and was on the other side of the cathedral tower!"
As skeptics and believers continue to bump heads trying to explain these so-called rods, Escamilla presents a video that includes what he argues are rods seen at 10,000 feet or more above ground.
CHECK OUT THESE HIGH-FLYING RODS:
Despite the single-frame anomaly of the New Orleans video, Dantonio still goes along with the insect theory.
"In the end, I will say that this is fascinating -- it's a good one. But I do believe it's a video effect showing bugs with their wings beating, that you're capturing the wing in its up position."
"Why it seems to go behind that spire, that is interesting, but I'm sure there's a technical reason why that can happen," he said.
Escamilla offers an interesting video that he says helps dispel the insect theory about rods. In the video, an amateur golfer prepares to hit a ball:
"This was shot at 5,000 frames per second, in super slow motion," Escamilla said. "You see an insect, and then you see a rod fly through the scene followed by the golfer hitting the ball. You have three distinct things here: the insect, the fast-flying rod and then the golf ball."
After nearly 20 years of collecting and studying images, films and videos of these things, Escamilla isn't willing to go out on a limb to speculate what he thinks they are. But he's adamant that the more interesting ones are not insects.
"We don't yet know exactly what they are, but I have footage of them entering and coming out of the ocean, in caves, shuttle footage of these things in space and even footage of them on Mars. This is a real phenomenon."
Listen to the interview with Jose Escamilla conducted in March, 2009 on Earth Frenzy Radio UFO's and the Rods Phenomena