Ruth. Jordan. Montana. You don't have to be a sports fan to recognize those names, and there's a very good reason for that. All three of these athletes made magic happen whenever they competed. Even more importantly, when the chips were down, you could still count on these guys to deliver.

In times of economic turmoil, wouldn't it be great to have a performer like that in your portfolio? Well, high-quality dividend payers can be just that kind of day-in and day-out all-star that you're looking for.

Build the next investing dynasty
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. At the same time, they can provide a solid defense against crazy market conditions. Finding them is our Motley Fool Income Investor service's mission.

StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO), for example, has beaten the S&P 500 by 64 points since October 2006, and it's rewarding investors with a 5% yield. Or consider Partner Communications (NASDAQ:PTNR), which has topped the S&P by 41 points since May 2007, atop a current 8.3% yield. While these stocks happen to be Income Investor recommendations, you can learn about other great gains like these from other Foolish investors.

Identify new talent
With the help of Motley Fool CAPS, we'll search for the best dividend-paying stocks around. Here are several dividend picks that have also earned high ratings from the 130,000-plus members of our CAPS community:



CAPS Rating (out of 5)

PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)



Verizon (NYSE:VZ)



Tata Motors (NYSE:TTM)



Quality Systems (NASDAQ:QSII)



Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO)



Source: CAPS as of May 28. All yields listed are trailing and may not reflect recent corporate actions.

If you like what you see, but want more, you can run this screen for yourself with CAPS' handy screener. While these are not formal recommendations, they're a great place to start further research and potentially add some dividend excellence to your portfolio. In fact, I'll even get you started with some thoughts on Pepsi.

Does my dividend have a glass jaw?
The last thing we want in a dividend-paying company is the risk that the company will fall off a cliff and have to pull back its dividend. This usually ends up being a double whammy -- not only do you lose your dividend payout, but many of the dividend-loving investors who own the stock will run for the hills, causing the stock price to fall as well.

With that in mind, there are three things I immediately look for when kicking the tires of a dividend payer: dividend history, financial statements, and business stability.

Is Pepsi's dividend history "great" or "excellent"? We could probably spend some time debating that, but let's just say that it's a pretty desirable record. Pepsi has been paying dividends since before Mork & Mindy came into existence, and over the past decade the company has increased the dividend every year -- more than tripling the payout over that stretch.

The company's financial statements give dividend hounds little cause for concern. Pepsi's ample cash-flow generation has given it plenty of room to invest in capital spending and pay its growing dividend while at the same time buying back shares. And though the company does carry nearly $10 billion in debt, it has its interest payments well covered.

Do we even need to talk about stability? Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Mug Root Beer, Tropicana juices, Tostitos, Doritos, Lay's Potato Chips, Cap'n Crunch cereal, Gatorade -- I mean, these aren't exactly flash-in-the-pan fads. I think we can safely say that Pepsi operates a very stable business.

What the bulls say
I think you can see where I stand on Pepsi, but what about the nearly 3,600 CAPS members who have rated the stock? Pepsi gets a thumbs-up by a landslide. Just shy of 3,500 CAPS members have rated the stock an outperformer, versus just 109 who think it will lag the rest of the market.

CAPS member stockinger provided a recent pitch, keeping it short and sweet with: "[Pepsi] makes comfort food unaffected by hard times. Well run company will prosper in long run."

Earlier in the month, jesterdaysfool came to the same bullish conclusion by looking at Pepsi's valuation and dividend: "Like the price of this blue chip and it comes with a good, solid dividend. Think this stock is under-priced and has good upward potential."

Get into the action
You can check out who else has been bullish on these stocks, as well as 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.

Dividend stocks could help you transform your portfolio from The Bad News Bears to the Dream Team. And really, could you argue with having Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Sir Charles Barkley help your portfolio?

More CAPS Foolishness:

Quality Systems is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Pepsi, Partner Communications, and StatoilHydro are Income Investor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can check out the stocks he's keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio or connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy can vouch for the fact that Matt spends far too much money on Naked Juice -- yet another Pepsi product.