TAMPA — For 20 years, Bob Best worked behind the scenes alongside some of the biggest names in show business. His company, Best Productions, which was based in South Tampa, produced every Super Bowl pregame show from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s.
Though he didn't like to deal directly with the talent, Best can relate a host of pre-show horror stories. There was the national anthem singer who walked off an hour before the show. There were musicians who didn't want to rehearse as much as they needed for the big show.
But there was also Whitney.
Best met Whitney Houston a year before what would become regarded as one of the most renowned U.S. national anthem performances ever. The then up-and-coming singer performed at an event called "Rock Fest" on the Fourth of July at Tampa Stadium.
"It was fairly early in her career and she was great to work with," Best said. "Very cooperative. She was an incredible talent."
At the Super Bowl, Houston's father, John Russell Houston, was her manager at the time and Best dealt mostly with him. But he was struck by the down-to-earth nature the young singer exhibited.
Never a prima donna, she didn't mind mingling with stage hands and cast members of the show during rehearsals, Best said. And she always rehearsed to perfection.
The National Football League put Houston on a list of possible talent for the Super Bowl pregame several years in advance. In 1991, she got picked.
Best remembers assembling members of the Florida Orchestra to back up the vocal performance. The day before, rehearsal was longer than usual as rainy weather made for technical difficulties.
"She hung in there and dealt with the elements," Best said. "She dealt with what we needed to get the rehearsal done."
Best knew after that famous anthem that Houston was destined for super stardom. He even foresaw her becoming one of the biggest singers of all time.
"Obviously, she had some challenges as she made it through her life and career," Best said. "But at that time, she had her whole life ahead of her."