Quiz time, sports fans: What did the New York Yankees of the '50s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the '90s have in common? (And exactly how can this help you with your portfolio?)

It wasn't just that they had some of the best individual players of the time -- Yogi Berra, Michael Jordan, and Emmitt Smith, respectively -- although that certainly helped. And it wasn't just that they were able to bring home world championship trophies on a regular basis. Their organizations and performances were simply consistently excellent.

Consistent excellence is rare anywhere, but imagine seeing it in your portfolio. Impossible? No way! Because that's what carefully chosen dividend-paying stocks can offer.

Build the next investing dynasty
Finding these long-haul outperformers can help you build your fortune, as studies from investing gurus such as Jeremy Siegel have shown time and time again. Finding them for you is precisely what we do at our Motley Fool Income Investor service.

AllianceBernstein (NYSE:AB), for example, has returned 154% since August 2004, and it is currently rewarding investors with a 5.7% yield. Then there's France Telecom (NYSE:FTE), which has returned 62% since January 2006 on top of a current 4.6% yield. And while both companies happen to be an Income Investor recommendation, you don't need to be a subscriber to get these great gains.

Identify new talent
With that last thought in mind, I'd like to introduce you to our community intelligence database, Motley Fool CAPS. There, savvy investors help one another identify stocks that can create consistent and substantial growth for any type of investor. That means whether you're a Buffett-esque value investor or a chart-watching technical trader, you are welcome to strut your stuff. And, just as in professional sports, the cream inevitably rises to (and stays at) the top.

So what are the best dividend-paying stocks around, according to CAPS? Here are a few dividend picks with high CAPS ratings:

Company

Yield

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

AT&T (NYSE:T)

3.8%

****

Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE:PBR)

4.2%

*****

Frontline (NYSE:FRO)

12.5%

****

Allied Irish Banks (NYSE:AIB)

4.6%

*****

Fording Canadian Coal Trust (NYSE:FDG)

6.2%

****

Source: Capital IQ, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of Dec. 14.

Stake your claim
I encourage you to join CAPS to learn more about why investors are so bullish on these companies, and perhaps to add your own thoughts to the system. I'll get you started with some thoughts about one company here that may be worth checking out: AT&T.

Cingular is now AT&T
Of course, Cingular isn't the only thing that's now AT&T. Since being broken up in 1984 by the U.S. Department of Justice over antitrust concerns, AT&T has managed to build itself back through mergers and acquisitions -- and even being acquired itself -- into a massive national communications provider. Though obviously a joke, Stephen Colbert's examination of AT&T's history gives a pretty good picture of its round-trip journey.

Massive or not, the AT&T of today is a much different company than the one that was originally broken up. While the AT&T of the history books found its manna in the (yawn) landline telephone business, the AT&T of today provides a host of communications services, including traditional phone, phone over Internet (VoIP), cellular phone, digital TV, and Internet, among others.

CAPS players seem to like the new AT&T, and 2,371 bulls have helped the stock secure a four-star rating. InvestorDeb, a CAPS All-Star, recently picked AT&T as an outperformer, noting the company's $15 billion stock buyback program and dividend boost. She added that AT&T has "good growth, visible earnings and prudent management that is aligned with shareholders."

You can check out who else has been bullish on AT&T, and chime in with your own thoughts, by heading over to CAPS. You may also want to check out a few of the other top-rated dividend payers above while you're there.

And looping back around to conclude my (very) extended sports metaphor, allow me to suggest that dividend stocks will help you turn your portfolio into the dependable New York Yankees, rather than the flash-in-the-pan Florida Marlins. And if you hate the Yankees, it's probably because they're so darn good, so darn often.

Looking for more great dividend payers? Why not take The Motley Fool's Income Investor for a spin? You can try out Income Investorfree for 30 days. Try getting a BMW dealership to do that!

AllianceBernstein, France Telecom, and Petroleo Brasileiro are all Income Investor recommendations. Allied Irish Banks is a pick from the Global Gains newsletter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Allied Irish Banks.

Yankees fan and Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer hopes the Yanks can continue their legendary excellence (maybe next year ... ), and has his fingers crossed that the Cowboys never will get back to the top again. He does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is a true investing dynasty.