Tampa resident runs the whole show
By BABITA PERSAUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001
TAMPA -- The production company responsible for every Super Bowl pregame show for the past 17 years isn't in New York or L.A.
It's in Tampa.
Best Productions is run by Bob Best, who lives in South Tampa and is a former director of marketing and public relations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His musical director is Hilton Jones, a professor at the University of South Florida and an organist at his church, St. Lawrence Catholic Church. His associate producer, Ed Jones (no relation to Hilton), used to work for Channel 44.
When Super Bowl XVIII came to Tampa in 1984, part of Best's job was arranging entertainment at Tampa Stadium. He consulted people he knew and put a video on the matrix board, enlisted the Florida and Florida State marching bands and soon found himself an annual gig.
"I am really and truly a behind-the-scenes individual," said Best, 50.
The notoriety of the pregame show has since grown, especially when the finale started to be televised six years ago. "We now have people calling us, asking us if they can be in the pregame production," Best said.
It's a high-stress, high-profile job, but the pregame show is only a hobby, he says.
The rest of the year he is the president of his own company, International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering, which organizes conferences and trade shows nationwide.
Best takes two weeks vacation each Super Bowl. He sets up a temporary office, checks himself into a hotel -- even when he's close to home -- and conducts meetings out of restaurants, like the one with a reporter at the bar at Shula's.
Preparations, he says, start as soon as one Super Bowl ends. It has developed into somewhat of a formula, he says.
First, he thinks of a theme, talks to his choreographer and talent executive at the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles. They develop a short list of recommendations and present them to the NFL. This year, he suggested the Backstreet Boys. Nick Carter's ties to Tampa had a strong impact on Best, and his theme is "Life's Super in Central Florida."
But the talent doesn't always match.
For example, Sting has very little to do with Central Florida, Best acknowledged. But he's got a CD out and lots of hits.
"Our role is to enhance the biggest football game of the year," said Best. "And I understand that."
Things haven't always gone smoothly. One year, he nearly got arrested when a fire marshal suddenly decided to move vintage cars, which were props in the show, out of the stadium.
Another year, the fly-bys were off in timing and the second jet crossed the stadium right when Denver Broncos retiring quarterback John Elway's name was announced.
"I'm sure people were going, "What was that all about?' " Best said. "Others probably figured, "Wasn't that nice, the guy's retiring and they give him a fly over.' "
Another year -- and this is why he prefers not to deal directly with talent -- the national anthem singer walked off an hour before the show. (Best won't name names.)
"I have to say that was the most nervous I've been in my life," said Best.
After the "emotional anxiety," he said, he sent assistants to recruit a big name from the celebrity-filled stands. Jon Bon Jovi stepped up to the plate. By then the original performer calmed down and Bon Jovi didn't have to perform.
And Best learned a lesson. "I never leave home without a recorded version of the national anthem in my briefcase the day of the game," he said.
The day of the game is crunch time. Best, in the stadium audio booth, is wired: A speaker phone to CBS, a headset to his production team, a walkie-talkie to the NFL.
Assistants around him know the top-priority system he uses to indicate who can approach him at a particular moment. Seconds count. The set has to be cleared in three minutes. Sting has to sing his first note at the precise moment CBS goes live.
If that's not all, Best Production also is responsible for the piped in music inside Raymond James Stadium, organizing a massive confetti launch and fireworks after the game.
He calls it a night about 10 p.m.. The next day he will be back in the office at 9 a.m., a medical conference to plan.
The brain already is working on next year's Super Bowl in New Orleans. But what? He's been there three times before.
"We've done the Cajun thing, done the jazz thing, done the Mardi Gras thing," said Best. "Maybe we could do the voodoo thing. Or a food show with Gallagher and Emeril doing a food fight."
He laughs. He'll think of something, he says.
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