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Tom Glavine (left), John Smoltz (center) and Greg Maddux (Photo Credit: Doug Mills/AP)

by MARK GREY

9.9.10

With Emmitt Smith joining Troy Aikiman and Michael Irvin in the Hall of Fame last month, and Chris Bosh and Lebron headed to South Beach in hopes of making history, it got us to thinking who is the best "Big Three" of all time. How many titles were won, how many seasons together, and how good each player was on there own were all taken in to account. Here are the results.

10. Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed - If it weren’t for a couple of bad Super Bowl performances, this threesome would be much higher on the list.  For four straight seasons these three dominated the NFL, racking up 49 regular season wins and four trips to the Super Bowl.  Kelly and Reed’s 65 touchdown connections ranks fourth all time for a quarterback and receiver tandem.  The Buffalo Bills no huddle offense lead by Kelly was so effective that the NFL was forced to change the rules just to slow them down.  All three were fixtures at the Pro Bowl and on the All Pro team in the early 90s.  Long before fantasy football made being an all purpose back popular, Thomas was the most complete back in football. He is still the only player to ever lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage four years in a row.  Kelly and Thomas have both already been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Look for Reed and his 951 receptions and 87 touchdowns to join them soon.

9. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz - For almost an entire decade, the Braves had the best pitching staff in baseball.  In the 90s, the three combined to win 6 Cy Young awards while leading the Braves to 9 first place finishes in 10 years.  Maddux was a location pitcher, Smoltz brought the heat and Glavine was a mixture of both.  Maddux and Glavine are both members of the 300 wins club and locks for the Hall of Fame, while Smoltz’s 200 plus wins and 150 saves gives him a pretty good chance to join them.

8. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish - These three Hall of Famers shared the same front court for more than a decade and led the Celtics to three titles.  In the 80s, Bird was named NBA MVP and the trio combined for 28 all star appearances.  Bird’s versatility allowed him to be a threat inside and out, making him of the greatest scorers in league history.  McHale had a wide variety of post moves that allowed him to become one of the most respected post players of all time.  Parish, aka the Chief, was the definition of consistency in the middle, not only helping control the glass, but also becoming one of the first centers to show the ability to run the floor.  All three players were named as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players.


 

7. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin - The Cowboys used their first round picks in 1988, 1989 and 1990 to build arguably the best QB, WR, RB tandum in NFL history.  In ‘88, they drafted number 88 - Irvin, the kind of playmaking wideout that QBs dream about.  The following year they used the number 1 overall pick to draft Aikman, the franchise quarterback the Cowboys had been looking for.  By the young trio’s third year together, they were Super Bowl champs.  In total, they would win three Super Bowls together and countless individual awards.  This trio made the Cowboys the most dominant team of the 90s and all three would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame after their careers were over.

6. Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig - Hands down the greatest Wide Receiver ever, arguably the best QB ever, and one of the most underrated running backs in history, help put the 49ers on the NFL map.  The trio played together for 6 years and never won less than 10 games in a season over  that span.  Rice set the single season touchdown record, Craig became the first running back to rush for a 1,000 yards and have 1,000 yards receiving in the same year, and all Montana did was win.  Rice was named AP offensive player of the year in '87, Craig in '88 and Montana in '89 - the only time three teammates have ever won the award consecutively.  They won back to back Super Bowls including a Super Bowl record  45 point blowout of the Denver Broncos.  All three were named to the 80’s all decade team, as they created the blueprint for the perfect way to execute the west coast offense.   

5. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman
- In three seasons together, the trio won three NBA titles.  In their first season together, they won an NBA record 72 games,  and followed that up with 69 and 62 win seasons the following years.  Jordan was hands down the game's best player and Pippen was its most versatile, while Rodman had no peers on the glass.  In 1996, the three defensive greats became the first trio of teammates to be named to the All-NBA Defensive first team in the same year.  Jordan and Pippen both were named to the NBA 50 greatest list, while Rodman is regarded as the best rebounder of the modern era.

4. Magic Johnson, Kareem -Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy - What do you get when you combine the best point guard of all time, one of the best centers of all time, and one of the best clutch players of all time?  Showtime.  All three players came into the league as the number one overall pick in their respective drafts and all three went on to have Hall of Fame careers.  In a four year span, the Lakers won three NBA titles with all three players earning their own finals MVP award.  In the seven years that the three played together, they made it to Finals six times.  With Magic’s court vision, Kareem’s sky hook, and Worthy’s big game performances, the Lakers put together a dynasty that helped change the NBA.

3. Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose - These three players were the heart and soul of the “Big Red Machine” that dominated baseball for almost a decade.  In a five year span, the three combined for four MVP awards.  Over a six year span, the Reds averaged an amazing 98 wins per season and won five NL pennants.  Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench are both Hall of Famers while Rose, the All Time hits leader, has a ban from baseball that is the only thing keeping him out.  All three are considered to be among the  best to ever play their respective positions.  The Reds are the only team to win back to back world series rings from the NL in the last 75 years.

2. Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones - The Trio of Russell, Cousy, and Jones made the NBA Finals in all six of their years together and won five of them.  Cousy and his ball handling changed the game outside while Russell’s interior defense changed the game inside.  Both Cousy and Russell earned NBA MVP honors and Jones became a regular on the All Star team.  The NBA had no answer for the combination of offense and defense that this trio brought to the court.  All three players would go on to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, with Cousy and Russell also named to the NBA’s 50 greatest team.

1. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri - To say that Gretzky owns the NHL record books would be an understatement.  Over a six year period that saw the Great One break just about every single scoring record in league history, The Edmonton Oilers won 4 Stanley Cups.  Gretzky's linemates were no slouches either.  Messier is the second leading scoring in NHL history and widely regarded as one of the best hockey players of all time.  Kurri ranks 16th of all time on the goals scored list and even led the NHL in goals in 1986 while playing alongside his Hall of Fame teammates.  The NHL has never seen a more prolific scoring tandem and probably never will.  The trio made five trips to the Finals in six years.  All three players are in the Hall of Fame and will forever be linked to the greatest dynasty in NHL History.

 

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