Sidney Crosby was only five years old when he posed for the photograph that would become Tim Hortons’ most powerful marketing tool. He was three-foot-11 and 54 pounds, and he wore big blue-and-red gloves, holding them close together as he gripped a wooden stick. The company’s name was written across the chest of his yellow hockey sweater. The photo was printed on a novelty card Crosby received for participating in the Timbits minor-hockey program. He gave it to his uncle, Rob Forbes, as a gift.

A few years later, Forbes showed the card to a group of Tim Hortons executives. At the time, he was in charge of the company’s regional marketing in Atlantic Canada. Using the card as a prop, Forbes told the gathered executives that one day a young player from the Timbits program — a player just like the boy in the picture — would grow up to play in the NHL. That player would create a unique marketing opportunity: a direct link between the company’s grassroots initiatives and NHL stardom.

Forbes didn’t assume it would literally be the kid on the card who grew into the best and most influential hockey player of a generation. The photo was meant to stand in for any and every Timbits player. It was meant to stand in for all the photos just like it that live on mantels and in trophy cases and albums in homes across Canada. Photos that are familiar and nostalgic — and in Crosby’s case, evidence of a childhood dream come true.

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