By Jay Busbee and Kevin Kaduk
Any school can produce a Hall of Famer in one sport, and quite a few can pull the trick for two. But three sports? Ah, that's some rare air there. Very few schools can boast top-flight athletes across three major sports. Is yours on the list? Read on and see.
Note: for the purposes of this list, we narrowed the list to professional baseball, NFL, and NBA players. (Sorry, Stanford, you don't get credit for Tiger Woods.) If you have a differing opinion, and we're sure you do, find us on Twitter using #YahooBig3 and let us know what you think.
Without further ado, we present to you the best of the best of the best:
1. UCLA: Troy Aikman/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Jackie Robinson
A baseball Hall of Famer who broke the sport’s color barrier. An NBA Top 50 great who owns pro basketball’s all-time scoring record. A three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. The bar has been set so high in Westwood you wonder what’d it take for anyone else to work their way into this conversation.
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2. Auburn: Bo Jackson/Charles Barkley/Frank Thomas
You could rank Auburn’s Big Three No. 1 and almost no one would complain (except Alabama fans out of habit). These three embody athleticism, attitude, and grace, and each one of them revitalized his sport while at Auburn in the 1980s. Only injuries kept Jackson from being one of the best of all time in his sport, while Barkley and Thomas are quintessential figures in theirs.
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3. Texas: Earl Campbell/Kevin Durant/Roger Clemens
How could the same school produce both the dirt-mean Clemens and the sentimental Durant? Even emotions are bigger in Texas, apparently. These three make a solid tandem, even if their paths are running in strikingly different directions. Durant virtually owns the NBA, Clemens is a pariah from baseball, and Campbell’s health decline is both tragedy and cautionary tale.
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4. Michigan: Tom Brady/Chris Webber/George Sisler
This is a weirder trio than at first glance considering Tom Brady wasn’t exactly exalted during his time in Ann Arbor and that Chris Webber is still feuding with the school long after the Ed Martin/Fab Five fallout. If Sisler, a Hall of Famer who died in 1973, doesn’t do much for you, feel free to sub in any of the following baseball Wolverines: Barry Larkin, Charlie Gehringer, Jim Abbott.
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5. Miami: Ray Lewis/Rick Barry/Ryan Braun
Before you complain about the Hurricanes’ football and baseball reps, stop and give thanks that A-Rod went straight to pro ball instead of the U. Barry put the school on the map for hoops long before its football and baseball programs built national profiles.
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6. Tennessee: Peyton Manning/Bernard King/Todd Helton
Helton only started a few games at quarterback for Tennessee before getting injured; fortunately, his backup, fella named Peyton, was fairly solid. Manning went from Tennessee to instant, and ongoing, stardom in the NFL, while Helton switched to baseball and crafted an iconic career for the Colorado Rockies. King’s star has dimmed somewhat the farther we get from his playing days, but he was one of the top scorers of the ‘80s, a constant threat in both the paint and the open floor. He’s already in his Hall of Fame, and the other two could well follow him.
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7. Minnesota: Bronko Nagurski/Kevin McHale/Dave Winfield
This is a bit of a surprising entry, but it’s hard to argue with one of the NFL’s first stars, a Hall of Famer with the second Celtics dynasty and a man who was selected in the MLB, NBA and NFL drafts. (Winfield’s versatility gives him the nod over Paul Molitor, another Gopher who’s enshrined in Cooperstown.)
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8. Cal: Aaron Rodgers/Jason Kidd/Jeff Kent
Rodgers over Tony Gonzalez might have been the toughest call in this exercise. Kidd leading Cal over Duke in ‘93 remains one of the tournament’s best upsets.
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9. Michigan State: Andre Rison/Magic Johnson/Robin Roberts
There probably aren’t many cooler feelings than playing basketball for the Spartans and looking up in the stands to see Magic Johnson cheering you on. Roberts was recruited to East Lansing to play basketball and didn’t take up baseball until his junior season. A Hall of Fame career with the Phillies ensued, putting him on this list ahead of fellow Spartans Kirk Gibson (another two-sport star) and Steve Garvey.
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10. Florida State University: Deion Sanders/Dave Cowens/Buster Posey
Tallahassee is full of Florida State football standouts, but they all walk in the shadow of Prime Time. Deion Sanders, an NFL all-timer, was a fair-to-middling baseball player; fortunately for Florida State’s ranking, Buster Posey has come along to hold up the diamond honor of the Seminoles. Rounding out the trio is Dave Cowens, an NBA Hall of Famer and five-tool magician, the rare big man with playmaking and ball-handling skills.
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11. North Carolina: Lawrence Taylor/Michael Jordan/Walt Weiss
The best linebacker of all time, history’s best basketball player and …. the 1988 AL rookie of the year. UNC is more or less the East Coast version of the next school on this list ...
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12. Kansas: Gale Sayers/Wilt Chamberlain/Bob Allison
With the book and movie "Brian's Song," Sayers played the nation's heartstrings the way he played opposing defenses: with relentless grace. Chamberlain was one of the most dominant individuals in NBA history; nobody's come close to his mark of 100 points in a game. Together, their star power is enough to bring along fellow Jayhawk Allison (the baseball player, not the race car driver) – the 1959 AL Rookie of the Year and a longtime standout for the Senators/Twins.
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13. LSU: Y.A. Tittle/Shaquille O’Neal/Brian Wilson
There was a time when “Y.A. Tittle” wasn’t just something fourth-grade boys said to try to get other fourth-grade boys in trouble during math. No, there was a time when Tittle bestrode the NFL landscape like a colossus … not unlike Shaquille O’Neal does today, matter of fact. Wilson isn’t quite in this stratospheric company, but his beard is, so we’ll let him in anyway.
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14. Georgia Tech: Calvin Johnson/Mark Price/Mark Teixeira
For years, Tech was Point Guard U, with Stephon Marbury, Kenny Anderson, Price and others running the floor show for the Yellow Jackets. Then came Teixeira, who’s worth almost as much on a ballfield as the Yankees are paying him, and Johnson, who’s worth more on a football field than any three teams could pay him. If this were a three-on-three basketball competition, the Price-to-Megatron combo would put Tech at the top.
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15. Arizona State: Pat Tillman/Byron Scott/Barry Bonds
Tillman and Bonds reside on very different ends of the public reputation spectrum, but both share the fact they spent their formative years in Tempe. James Harden would be a good candidate to one day displace Scott in this trio, but he’s not there yet.
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16. Notre Dame: Joe Montana/Adrian Dantley/Carl Yastrzemski
Montana is the reason quarterbacks come to South Bend and opt for the No. 3 jersey, even if it comes with outsized expectations. Yaz played only one season at Notre Dame before being lured away by the Boston Red Sox. (Fun fact: Fellow Hall of Famer Cap Anson was a member of Notre Dame’s first baseball team.) Dantley was a six-time All-Star who was also the leading scorer for the gold-medal winning basketball team at the 1976 Olympics.
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17. Oklahoma State: Barry Sanders/John Starks/Robin Ventura
These are three amazing talents best known for the beatings they took at the hands of others: Ventura by Nolan Ryan, Starks by the Chicago Bulls, Sanders by his own Detroit Lions front office’s incompetence. Still, the ‘90s were very good to Oklahoma State alumni.
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18. Washington: Warren Moon/Detlef Schrempf/Tim Lincecum
Talk about a trio of vanguards. Moon shattered old stereotypes that blacks couldn’t play quarterback and ended up in the Hall of Fame. Schrempf started the wave of Europeans into the NBA in the mid-80s. Lincecum turned a small frame and funky delivery into two Cy Youngs and two World Series titles for the San Francisco Giants.
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19. Alabama: Bart Starr/Robert Horry/Joe Sewell
You could field a decent football team with all the Alabama players in the NFL at any given moment, but the legendary Starr stands above them all, with Joe Namath just a notch below Bart. Big Shot Bob gets the basketball nod, but depending on your tolerance for coach assault, you might prefer Latrell Sprewell. Alabama’s baseball tradition doesn’t run as deep as other SEC schools, but the Tide can still boast a Hall of Famer, Sewell, who played nearly a century ago and still holds the record for the lowest strikeout rate in baseball history.
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20. San Diego State: Marshall Faulk/Kawhi Leonard/Tony Gwynn
What a difference a season makes. Four months ago, SDSU doesn’t crack the top 20, maybe 50, on this list. But one flawless NBA Finals MVP performance later from Leonard, and here we are. He joins two Hall of Fame-enshrined legends: NFL MVP Faulk was an all-purpose threat from the backfield, and Gwynn was simply one of the finest hitters in baseball history.