Hiding in Plain Sight


When he’s out and about near his Denver home, former Broncos quarterback John Elway has come up with a novel way to travel incognito—­he wears his own jersey. “I do that all the time here,” the 50-year-old Hall of Famer told me. “I go to the mall that way. They know it’s not me because they say there’s no way Elway would be wearing his own jersey in the mall. So it actually is the safest thing to do.”

Of course, now everybody knows.

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 7:34 AM42 Comments


Clive Robinson October 19, 2010 8:12 AM

This “see the shirt” not the face also helps in crime…

If you get a golf / sweat shirt printed up in a companies colours with prominante logo and importantly large telephone number. You can be fairly sure when you are mugging some little old lady that any witness is busy trying to remember the phone number not your face.

And yes this idea has been tested (as best as possible) and witnesses realy cannot even give the persons height or general build…

So much for eye witnesses they fail miserably around 90% of the time.

out here October 19, 2010 8:54 AM

“#7” is so old-school these days, it might actually stand out more than John hopes for.

qwertyuiop October 19, 2010 9:09 AM

I read some years ago about a serial rapist who terrorised the East Coast of the US for several years. He made no attempt to hide his features from his victims but he wore a plaster (=band-aid) on his right cheek. That was the only detail victims remembered. You could put that down to trauma from their ordeal, but it was also true for witnesses who saw him either before or after the crime.

kingsnake October 19, 2010 9:11 AM

Clive, that supposes street criminals have the ability to analyze and plan beyond “get my next crack rock”. ;-p

Btw, the best “hide in plain sight” story will always be Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” …

greg October 19, 2010 9:42 AM


We had “armed robbery” training for BP (student job). Some dudes come and basically mug you and do a pretty good job of making it feel real.

It was hilarious. I got the basic colours of the clothes right and said i didn’t really know about their heights etc. I got the most right by a long shot.

The people with lots of specific details, where almost 100% wrong about all the details. For example one guy said that the balaclava had a red stripe in it. It was a plain black balaclava…

And this is when you know the gun is fake.

No One October 19, 2010 10:07 AM

@kingsnake: Even street thugs who are just out to mug people for crack money will wear such things as gaudy windbreakers because those are cheap and easy to obtain. If, for some reason, they then lose that windbreaker then their defining attribute is now missing. Humans are so bad at detail that an attacker can accidentally befuddle them.

Joe October 19, 2010 10:31 AM

Since humans are such bad eyewitnesses then its obvious that we need more surveillance cameras. That way we can see what the thugs really looked like.

jgreco October 19, 2010 11:31 AM

Is a 50-year-old Hall of Famer football player really in that much danger of random recognition? (I assume at that age he hasn’t played in some time..) I might suspect that this is just the story he tells himself, when really he is doing it in hopes of being recognized.

I suppose just being recognized a handful of times a week would get annoying enough though.

kingsnake October 19, 2010 12:21 PM

Sorry, “no one”, but even most street criminals do not plan in that detail. That’s why they tend to get arrested more often, for smaller takes, than the criminals on Wall Street. http://www.electricferret.com/bozo/ makes for amusing, and hardly atypical, reading. Plus, from personal experience working as a guard at a jail. (In a previous life.)

Earth October 19, 2010 12:38 PM

If this gets around, it’ll probably just increase retail sales of Elway jerseys. Thereby making it work even better for Elway. Clever, old man.

Trichinosis USA October 19, 2010 1:13 PM

I’m still trying to deal with the concept of Lord Bruce of TwoFish in the ren faire garb. 😀

atk October 19, 2010 1:39 PM

@kingsnake: it’s dangerous to assume professional criminals are unable to plan ahead or to think rationally. There’s a continuum of criminal minds and reasons, just as there’s a continuum of non-criminal minds & reasoning. Some are in it for the next hit, some are in it for cash, some for fun, some to prove their loyalties, some to protect their turf, some to protect their reputation, some because they’re antisocial, etc. Do some research – Rory Miller would be a great starting point to learn about the bad guys.

No One October 19, 2010 2:14 PM

@kingsnake: I’m not talking planning, I’m saying that it’s entirely reasonable for someone in such a state as to be stealing to support a drug habit to wear garish clothing and to lose said clothing. And for every bozo criminal there’s someone who “was possibly hispanic, wearing a white jacket” or “was possibly black, wearing a blue bandana on his face” during a purse snatching or mugging — those are both actual descriptions of criminals near my school late at night one semester. And there’s the “white male of average height wearing a white shirt” that attempted a sexual assault near where I live, taken from an email from the police as a community advisement.

Bob Murphy October 19, 2010 2:19 PM

That actually made me LOL, and quite loudly, which I don’t do much when reading online.

@jgreco: Yes, I suspect Elway would be recognized around Denver, and I’ve seen him in TV commercials in the last few years.

Bob Murphy October 19, 2010 2:33 PM

Oh, and criminals can definitely plan that far ahead.

In 1985, I was held up at gunpoint by two men late one Saturday night, in a brightly-lit restaurant parking lot in Fort Worth, Texas. When the police came, I discovered they’d done this every Saturday night for months, like clockwork. Like all the many other victims, I was too distracted by their habitual garb of bright white t-shirts and red baseball caps to notice anything other than that they were black. Well, until I noticed the frighteningly large .45 revolver one held to my neck while the other went through my pockets.

The policemen I spoke with pretty much despaired of identifying these guys based on victim evidence.

Glad I Don't Live There October 19, 2010 2:47 PM


If this was happening every Saturday night, why weren’t the police staking out the parking lot? Why didn’t they send one of their men in as a decoy?

Dom De Vitto October 19, 2010 3:00 PM

I like Madonna’s approach to preventing photographers following her 24×7 – she always wears the same outfit.

It’s really hard to sell photos of her in the same outfit as all the other papers published last week.

Remove the (financial, or other) incentive, and the drivers of many problems just go away.


anon October 19, 2010 3:31 PM

@Bob Murphy – “Like all the many other victims, I was too distracted by their habitual garb of bright white t-shirts and red baseball caps to notice anything other than that they were black. Well, until I noticed the frighteningly large .45 revolver one held to my neck while the other went through my pockets.”

Interesting that you were able to distinguish the diameter of the revolver barrel, and know it was .45 caliber and not, say, the more-common .44, or dozens of similar calibers ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_handgun_cartridges) .

My guess is that the police discounted this part of your story, and perhaps never recorded it. Imagine a defense lawyer arguing “…but my client was arrested carrying a .44 caliber revolver, which is clearly different than the .45 caliber revolver identified by his accuser as shown in the police report”.

Davi Ottenheimer October 19, 2010 3:51 PM

This advertisement sponsored by the Denver mall?

I don’t believe for a minute that Elway actually goes to the mall.

I do believe, however, that he has invested in a mall and wants people to go there.

Steve C October 19, 2010 4:53 PM

Another example of hiding in plain sight from a celebrity – Dolly Parton used to enter Dolly Parton lookalike contests.

It must have been hilarious when she didn’t win

Moderator October 19, 2010 5:19 PM


Please make sure your comments are relevant to the topic. For instance, even though that book on steganography happens to have the title “Hiding in Plain Sight,” the excerpts you posted have nothing to do with the subject of the thread.

OJ Simpson October 19, 2010 6:37 PM

Elway makes announcement.
More locals start wearing Elway jerseys.
Elway begins robbing local malls with impunity.
(He can stroll away at a leisurely pace, too, which becomes ever more important as one ages.)
Publicity-seeking politicians demand jerseys be outlawed at malls.
Jersey sales crash nationwide.
Elway uses robbery proceeds to start a company making “When jerseys are outlawed, only outlaws will wear jerseys!” bumper stickers.
Elway makes billions from bumper stickers, buys up all the failed jersey companies for pennies.
Elway orders all his jersey companies to manufacture only #7 jerseys.
Elway can go anywhere without being recognized.

This man is, like, LEX LUTHOR!!!

Tweezer October 19, 2010 7:17 PM

I seem to recall a TV show the told the story of some bank robbers that always sped off in a car that had a bright yellow stripe on it. The trick is that the strip was nothing but tape and they would remove it just a few blocks away. All the witnessess would recall is the stripe though.

Tim October 20, 2010 4:51 AM

@ Steve C
I remember reading that Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest once, and came 3rd.

As for Elway’s approach, wearing a football shirt here in the UK would prevent you being admitted to some places. Hiding in plainsight is ineffective if it prevents your planned activity.

John October 20, 2010 8:45 AM

@kingsnake: Poe it is! Let’s call such schemes “purloined letters” in his honor.

Or do they already have a name?

thomas October 20, 2010 9:15 AM

There’s a story floating around Ohio here where Eric Clapton summers, that he wears his own shirt sometimes around town 😀 When I had heard the story I thought it was made up, but in this context, seems shrewd. It must suck sometimes to be famous for sure.

backatya October 20, 2010 12:44 PM

@glad I don’t live there,
cops don’t do that kind of thing, anyway the crooks would probably see the marked car sitting prominently in the lot and they would just move on to the other place that they usually rob.
you call a cop after something happens and they come out an lay down some official attitude and tell you, that you should move to a better area.
Don’t expect them to risk anything to prevent crime. its their job to show up afterward and harrass the victims.

Davi Ottenheimer October 20, 2010 5:22 PM

Cherry Creek Mall is where Elway put his restaurant, which is called…wait for it…Elway’s.

His statement thus reads like a thinly-veiled marketing ploy for the mall, and his name/jersey.

Note that he did not say “when I go out”, he specified “I go to the mall that way”.

ChrisWPG October 20, 2010 10:58 PM

@anon, some handguns are very distinctive. The Colt .45, for example. If you’re even moderately familiar with handguns they’re easy to spot.

David Conrad October 22, 2010 1:12 PM

You know, I’ve always thought it would be neat if Slash (the guitarist from Guns ‘n Roses with the hat and curly hair) actually had a normal haircut, and all that curly hair was actually just a wig attached to the hat. That way he would be extremely recognizable on stage but, after a concert, he could just take the hat-and-hair off and in seconds he would be totally unrecognizable and incognito.

David Conrad October 22, 2010 1:14 PM

Oh, and I’d like to suggest another strategy for John Elway, in case this one no longer works now that it has been revealed. Get a bunch of other big guys who vaguely resemble him to walk around the mall wearing Elway jerseys.

Thomas Crowne Affair!

Doug Coulter October 22, 2010 8:15 PM

I think it works for Elway because a lot of people wear jerseys, and probably in his town, the same one.

I was once kinda-sorta well known, in a fairly positive way, by the teen crowd (as a musician). I wore moderately distinctive stage clothing, kind of by accident, clothes with a lot of colorful patches on them. Those were also clothes I wore normally, they got the patches because I wasn’t all that careful around my electroplating hobby, and clothes that fit my skinny frame aren’t that easy to find, so we patched them when they got “holey”. And it was kinda cool, having sort of clown suits…Kind of a fun way to thumb my nose at “suits”.

For awhile there, I couldn’t go out to the hardware or grocery store without getting a lot of attention; some teen showing off that he knew me to his girlfriend or the like, all pleasant, but you know, it was a real pain to encounter a half hour delay on every single trip outdoors when I was more or less on a mission to do this or that, and then get home again.

People seem to forget that though they’ve concentrated on you, you don’t even know who they are — the lights on stage are blinding, the TV cameras aren’t two-way, and all that. Sure they are nice (mostly), but…more often than not after a medium-pleasant chat I’d have to ask my wife “who in heck was that, anyway?”. I of course spent time talking with them all, I like being pleasant and all that.

It’s not like I disliked any of them (I mean, you are grateful to have fans sometimes, it’s kinda how your food gets on the table), but it just gets to be a wear on your time and a drag after awhile.

I’m sure Elway will find, as I did, that it wears off pretty quick — a couple years tops. Maybe he is advertising. Then again, he was (and is) a lot more famous than I ever was. I was kind of surprised at the amount of attention I got for being a mere “rock star” and pretty small-time at that.

Clive Robinson October 23, 2010 8:15 AM

@ David Conrad,

“Slash (… from Guns ‘n Roses)”

A certain lycra wearing heavy metal lead (Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden) who is also an olympic medalist, book writer and heavy jet Pilot tells a story about how he was wearing his pilots uniform and walking through a well known European Airport, when A long haird individual wearing one of Maiden’s tee shirts came up to him. Bruce says he thought “oh no he wants a sig or to shake my hand etc” what actually happened was the long haired type asked where the toilets where. Bruce after pointing out the direction walked on thinking “if only he knew, if only he knew” Such is the life of a Rock God…

Bruce is also well respected by other Pilots for his rescue and mercy flights over the years.

Solsa October 24, 2010 6:25 AM

@Clive Robinson

But…but…the “long haired type” was just looking for the toilet. Maybe he didn’t care about rock gods. Some of us don’t, especially if we are bursting.

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