They are sports' version of the third wheel, decent players placed uncomfortably next to superstars, even legends, because of circumstance.
The media dubbed them stars, put them in elite company with elite players and called it a full set.
History will view them differently, more along the lines of Big Bird's observation:
"One of these things is not like the other..."
Note: I decided not to include members of collegiate big threes because it felt unfair to count someone's pro failures against a title they earned at a lower level. But if I had, note that Danny Wuerffel would have made it with a bullet.
Joe Tinker's inclusion in the baseball Hall of Fame has a lot to do with the men he played beside and not as much as it should with his own accomplishments.
As the first leg of the legendary Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination, Tinker was known as a defensive wiz.
But considering his mediocrity at the plate, he'd have to have been Ozzie Smith at shortstop to have a Hall of Fame case.
(I have no way of knowing if he was, but I'd say it's unlikely.)
Tinker has the fifth-worst OPS among hitters enshrined in Cooperstown and the second-worst OBP of the group.
He hit better than .300 just once in his 15-year career.
Paired with Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner in San Diego's Air Coryell attack, John Jefferson's NFL career started about as well as an NFL career can start.
The bespectacled wideout became the first receiver in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, a period during which he led the league in touchdown receptions twice.
A contract dispute before his fourth year precipitated a trade to Green Bay in 1981, and over his final five seasons, Jefferson, while productive, never again eclipsed 1,000 yards.
By 30 he was out of football.
The San Diego attack did just fine in his absence. Wes Chandler assumed Jefferson's role in the offense and made three Pro Bowls from 1982 to 1985.
Tyson Chandler came to the New York Knicks with great expectations attached.
He was, after all, the "missing piece" in the Mavericks' championship puzzle, the magic sauce that took an aging team to the mountain top.
Or maybe he wasn't.
I'm not saying Tyson Chandler didn't help Dallas succeed. I am saying that it is evident, based on his early work in New York, that his role in the narrative was blown out of proportion.
Dallas was a 57-25 team (two wins better than the year prior) that got hot at the right time, and Chandler had a lot to do with it.
But to put him in a Big Three conversation with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire is hasty. He's a great rebounder, an above-average defender and a high-efficiency scorer.
He's an asset, but he's not Mr. Solve-It.
Let Tyson Chandler breathe, people. Let him live his NBA life as a 15-20 PER player and leave the historical comparisons to the superstars.
Mikael Renberg broke into the NHL with a sonic boom in 1993, setting a Flyers club record with 82 points and feeding hope that he and fellow starlet Eric Lindros would anchor Philadelphia for years to come.
When the Flyers traded for John LeClair the following season, Philly's top line soon earned the sobriquet "Legion of Doom" and led the Flyers to an Atlantic Division title.
But while LeClair and Lindros went on to more notable, if not necessarily fulfilling, careers, Renberg became something of a journeyman.
He lasted four seasons in Philadelphia, failed to eclipse 60 points in any season following his rookie campaign and never made an All-Star team.
In a return engagement with Philadelphia during the late 1990s, Renberg couldn't get past the third line. His bowed exit was the final image of a Flyers career that seemed headed for bigger things.
I'll remember Norm Charlton as the pitcher pictured above: grizzled, lumpy, mullet-y.
He was hardly the vision of dominance in a 13-year major league career that saw him post a 112 ERA+ and reach one All-Star game.
Yet there Norm Charlton was, alongside the similarly, though not quite as unremarkable, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers in the Reds famous "Nasty Boys" bullpen.
None would go on to superlative careers, but all three were spectacular in 1990, leading the Reds to a 16-win improvement and a World Series title.
By the mid-1990s, Charlton was a decidedly average pitcher. He would piddle around until 2001, where he emerged as a surprise contributor for the 116-win Seattle Mariners and raised the oft-asked rhetorical question: "Norm Charlton? He's still around?"
It was his last year in the major leagues, the end of slow fizzle in a career remembered for heat and nastiness.
With one act of revolt, Jim Kiick was forever tied to the great Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield.
All three had been teammates together with the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970s during the team's glory years. Kiick, a halfback, and Csonka, a fullback, became known as Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid for their impressive exploits on the field and their close relationship off it.
In 1972, Kiick lost his starting job to the speedier Mercury Morris and collapsed into a new role as a short-yardage specialist. It seemed Kiick's time in the spotlight had passed.
That changed in 1975, when Csonka, Warfield and Kiick—still smarting from the Morris incident—signed three-year deals with the Memphis Southmen of the upstart World Football League.
From forgotten backup to star attraction, Kiick became part of the newly dubbed "Miami Trio." He received $700,000 in annual salary and re-assumed his role as a starter.
The glow wouldn't last long.
The WFL folded two-thirds of the way into their inaugural season and Kiick resumed life as an NFL backup for the final two years of his professional career.
In the end, his cumulative statistics didn't match his celebrity. For his career he averaged just 3.7 yards a carry and 32.7 yards per game.
T.J. Duckett was large. I'll give the man that.
As the muscle behind the Atlanta Falcons' DVD rushing attack (Warrick Dunn, Michael Vick, Duckett), Duckett scored 31 touchdowns in the first four years of his NFL career.
In 2004, his Falcons made the NFC championship game behind a league-leading 2,672 yards rushing. Duckett scored eight touchdowns and ran for 509 yards on 4.9 yards per attempt.
It was the apex of Duckett's career.
He played on four different teams over the final four years of his career, never gaining more than 400 yards.
Which isn't bad for a 254-pound running back, but also well short of the benchmarks his teammates would reach.
I'm not sure how Denver Broncos wideout Ricky Nattiel weaseled his way into the "Three Amigos" alongside Mark Jackson and Vance Johnson.
The latter were standout pass catchers in the John Elway-led Broncos attack of the late 1980s. Each finished with over 5,000 career receiving yards and topped 650 yards five times.
Nattiel never caught 50 passes in an NFL season and never topped 650 yards receiving in a season.
His entire playing career lasted just six years and he retired with fewer than 2,000 receiving yards to his name.
I know "Two Amigos" doesn't make any sense and nickname development isn't the best use of time but...Ricky Nattiel...really?