Back in the late 1990s, when value was defined down to include tech stocks with a price-to-earnings multiple under 40, large-cap value managers faced tremendous pressure to stick to their guns. You could probably write a "Profiles in Investing Courage" highlighting the best of them.

In the meantime, we'll dedicate this week's Five Funds to highlighting some of the best-run large value funds. Of the 10-15 truly stellar large-cap value funds out there, we tried to choose a variety pack: some that play up dividends, some that take a focused approach, some that are taking on a little risk, and so on.

All five, however, have the essentials: Outstanding management teams, returns that stand near the top of their category over the long haul and below-average costs.

1. (CFIMX) - Get Report Clipper

The easiest way to sing the praises of this outstanding fund (full disclosure: it's in my IRA account) is to rattle off the numbers, courtesy of Morningstar: Its one-year loss of 13.7% ranks in the top 7% of all large value funds. Clipper's three-year average annual return of 12.97%, five-year return of 7.73% and 10-year return of 14.53% all rank in the top 1%.

That's probably enough said, but investors should know a little more about Clipper. The fund, opened in 1984, has five co-managers at the helm who have a combined 72 years at Clipper. The skippers only keep about 35 companies in the fund and don't trade often, helping keep the expense ratio at 1.08%, below the 1.45% category average.

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On Clipper's

Web site, the managers detail their strict valuation-based philosophy: Companies are only added to the portfolio when shares trade at less than 70% of intrinsic value. This approach often leads them to unloved companies such as

America Online

(AOL)

,

Electronic Data Systems

(EDS)

and

Tyco

(TYC)

. Clipper also got pinched a bit by its recent acquisition in

Tenet Healthcare

(THC) - Get Report

. While some of these companies might give investors jitters, the name Clipper shouldn't. It's a great fund.

Another strong, concentrated fund in the large-value category that isn't afraid to bet on a few unloved stocks is

(KDHCX) - Get Report

Scudder Dreman High-Return Equity, helmed by long-time skipper David Dreman.

2. (DODGX) - Get Report Dodge & Cox Stock

The Dodge & Cox Stock fund shares many attributes with Clipper. It boasts a deep bench of great managers: Its 10-member committee has an average tenure of 22 years at Dodge & Cox. It also boasts outstanding short- and long-term returns with below-average costs -- its expense ratio is a meager 0.54%.

This large value fund's returns are equally impressive: One-year return of negative 12.46% (top 5%); three-year return of 5.99% (top 3%); five-year return of 5.78% (top 1%); and 10-year return of 13.6% (top 2%).

The Dodge & Cox fund offers broader diversification and less risk, holding more than 80 stocks in its portfolio. The skippers choose stocks with favorable long-term growth that appear temporarily undervalued, such as

Schering-Plough

(SGP)

,

Dow Chemical

(DOW) - Get Report

and

ConocoPhilips

(COP) - Get Report

.

3. (VEIPX) - Get Report Vanguard Equity Income

If you're looking for a value fund that offers a solid dividend yield and dirt-cheap fees, Vanguard Equity Income is an excellent choice.

The fund, whose management is outsourced to three stellar, long-tenured managers, offers a 2.64% dividend (compared with the 0.79% average for the category) and an expense ratio of 0.46%. The fund holds about 160 stocks, with a recent yen for health care companies such as

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

.

Vanguard Equity Income's record over the long and short haul ranks better than most of its peers. Essentially flat three- and five-year returns place it in the top 18% of all large-cap value funds, and its 10-year average annual gain of 9.58% makes it good for the top 24% of its peers, according to Morningstar.

4. (PRCDX) T. Rowe Price Equity Income

This large-cap value fund has just about everything you want from an offering in this category: Above-average returns, below-average expenses and risk, a seasoned hand at the helm and a little extra change coming in from dividend yields.

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Manager Brian Rogers has run the fund since 1985 with an eye for bargain stocks. While that made for tough times during the late 1990s, the fund has easily outdistanced the majority of its peers during each of the past three years. Over the long run, its performance is strong: One-year loss of 16.5% (top 24%); three-year average annual gain of 2.32% (top 9%); five-year average gain of 0.74% (top 11%); and 10-year average annual gain of 10.44% (top 12%).

In recent months, his bargain-hunting approach has led him to boost his stakes in companies such as

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

and

Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

.

The fund's expense ratio is 0.8% and its yield is an above-average 1.8%.

5. Tie: (OAKMX) - Get Report Oakmark and (EDTVX) Eaton Vance Tax-Managed Value

These funds are exceptions to the Five Funds rule that managers be at the helm for at least five years. But in both cases, the managers have long-term track records of excellence that make the exception a no-brainer.

Oakmark has been managed by Oakmark Select vet Bill Nygren and Kevin Grant since March 2000. The fund has racked up an impressive record before and after the new managers, with its three-year average annual return of 10.05% ranking good for the top 1% of all large-cap value funds. The 10-year return of 10.76% places the fund among the top 8% of its peers. Nygren doesn't mind scooping up some fallen growth companies, counting stocks like America Online among his 55 holdings. The fund also sports a below-average 1.15% expense ratio.

Over at Eaton Vance, Michael Mach manages the large-cap value funds, which include a "tax-managed" offering and an offering that caters to tax-deferred retirement accounts. Mach, at the helm since late 1999, has brought a strict discipline to his value funds, which has yielded great results.

Over the past three years, the fund's 3.13% average annual return places it in the top 5% of all large-cap value funds. Mach's purist approach to value investing leads him to companies such as

Washington Mutual

(WM) - Get Report

. He's a skilled manager, but don't take my word for it --

check out this recent interview with him.