Three-peat is a term used primarily in American sports to refer to winning three consecutive championships. The term, a portmanteau of the words three and repeat, originated with the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association, during their unsuccessful campaign for a third consecutive championship during the 1988–89 season, having won the previous 2 NBA Finals in 1987 and 1988 against the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons, but were swept by the Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals. The term is a registered trademark owned by Pat Riley, the Lakers' head coach from 1981–1990, although it was coined by L.A. player Byron Scott immediately after their victorious championship defense against the Detroit Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals.
In a comedic context, the same play on words, additionally incorporating the name "Pete", is known to have been used as early as 1930 on the radio program "Empire Builders!" The episode of that program broadcast on December 29, 1930, featured a trio of singers dubbed "The Three Visiting Firemen: Pete, Re-Pete, and Three-Pete".
The Oxford English Dictionary credits an Illinois high school senior, Sharif Ford, with the earliest published use of the word in the March 8, 1989 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Ford's quote uses the term in a sporting context and serves to provide a clear etymology as well:
The Lincoln High Tigers say they want to "three-peat". "You know, kind of like repeat, except doing it for the third time", senior Sharif Ford said.
However, Riles & Co., the corporate entity of National Basketball Association (NBA) coach Pat Riley, submitted in November 1988 a trademark application for the use of three-peat on shirts, jackets and hats. At the time, the phrase was being used by members and fans of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, of whom Riley was the head coach, regarding the Lakers' quest that season to obtain what would have been a third successive NBA championship. According to Riley, it was Laker player Byron Scott who coined the term in reference to the team's goal for that season.
In 1989, Riles & Co. successfully registered the trademark under U.S. Registration Number 1552980. The Lakers did not win a third consecutive NBA championship in 1989, but the Chicago Bulls did in 1993, and Riles & Co. collected royalties from sports apparel makers who licensed the phrase for use on merchandise commemorating that accomplishment.
Riles & Co. subsequently obtained additional registrations expanding the trademark to cover many other kinds of merchandise in addition to apparel. The company then went on to reap additional profits by again licensing the phrase to merchandisers when the Bulls again won three consecutive NBA championships from 1996 through 1998, as well as when the New York Yankees won three straight World Series championships from 1998 through 2000 and when the Lakers won three straight NBA championships from 2000 through 2002.
The trademark registration for three-peat has been challenged over the years by those who argue that the term has become too generic in its usage for the trademark to continue to be applicable. However, such arguments have yet to succeed, with the registration continuing to be upheld by the United States Patent and Trademark Office as recently as 2001, in the case of Christopher Wade v. Riles & Co.
In 2005, a group of individuals attempted to trademark the phrase Three-Pete in anticipation of the (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt that year by the University of Southern California (U.S.C.) football team to win a third consecutive national championship. The change in spelling was a reference to the team's head coach, Pete Carroll. However, the Patent Office ruled that the change in spelling was not dissimilar enough from Riles & Co.'s three-peat, and denied the registration. Later that year, U.S.C. fan Kyle Bunch began selling his own "Three-Pete" T-shirts. He discontinued sales once he was notified that he was infringing upon the Riles & Co. trademark.
As of late 2007, the trademark "Three Peat" is still active for shirts, jackets, caps, etc., and for commemorative mugs, plates, etc., and also for posters, bumper sticker, etc. The similar "3 Peat" became a registered trademark of Riles & Co. for blankets and other bedding, as of June 2015. Some of the Riles & Co. trademarks are no longer in effect, e.g. keychains.
There have been numerous instances of teams winning three or more consecutive championships in the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and Australian Football League most of which occurred prior to the advent of the term three-peat.
NACDA Director's Cup (overall collegiate athletics)
NCAA Division I Baseball
NCAA Division I Football
NCAA Division I Men's Water Polo
NCAA Division I Women's Basketball
NCAA Division II Women's Basketball
NCAA Division III Women's Basketball
Warhammer 40k American Team Championships
First Division (association football)
Collegiate women's basketball
First Division (Association football):
Turkish Football League 1st Division 1971–73 Galatasaray 1979–81 Trabzonspor 1990–92 Beşiktaş 1997–00 Galatasaray ( four-peat)
English football first tier
Champ Car World Series auto racing
Formula One Champion
Winter X Games SuperPipe
In the National Football League (NFL), a Super Bowl championship three-peat has not been accomplished. Two-time defending Super Bowl champions who failed to three-peat include the Green Bay Packers (1968), Miami Dolphins (1974), Pittsburgh Steelers (twice: 1976, 1980), San Francisco 49ers (1990), Dallas Cowboys (1994), Denver Broncos (1999), and New England Patriots (2005). All of these teams failed to return to the title game in the third season (indicated in parentheses).
The Buffalo Bills went to 4 consecutive Super Bowls from 1990–1993 which is a feat unmatched in NFL history, however they lost in every appearance.
In the early years of the NFL, decades before the introduction of either the term three-peat or the Super Bowl, the Packers won three consecutive NFL titles from 1929–31. This was achieved without playing any postseason playoff games, as the league title was determined at that time from the season standings. In addition, the Packers won the NFL championship in 1965, at a time when the rival NFL and AFL played separate exclusive championships. They then followed that 1965 championship with their first two Super Bowl victories in 1966 and 1967 (their Super Bowl berths were earned by winning both the 1966 NFL Championship Game and 1967 NFL Championship Game), thereby winning championships three years in a row.
There have been efforts to come up with a similarly clever name for the potential fourth consecutive championship in the year following a three-peat. But attempts such as quat-row have thus far failed to catch on, and most fans simply use the term four-peat. Since the term three-peat came into usage, however, only one team in major American sports has been able to achieve it – Hendrick Racing/Jimmie Johnson NASCAR team, who won 5 championships in a row.
The wordplay of three-peat is clearer if repeat is stressed on the first syllable; this pronunciation is uncommon outside North America. Other English-speaking people may instead talk of a hat trick of championships, or simply a three-in-a-row.
There are also terms for winning three trophies in the same season:
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