HOUSTON — The Carolina Panthers are just three hours from Sunday's Super Bowl showdown against New England, scheduled to kick off around 6:25 p.m., eastern time, on WRAL.
After Panthers receiver Steve Smith proved equal to a traditional pre-game challenge, his team has reason to feel good in spite of being a 7-point underdog.
Smith won what's called "the Game Before the Game" -- a video-game version of the Super Bowl.
For the last eight years, the winner of the video game has gone on to win the real thing on Sunday.
With hosts Pat O'Brien and Deion Sanders looking on, Smith took the controls for the Panthers. Troy Brown played for the Patriots.
Smith admitted he was nervous with the streak on the line. But the video version has little impact on the real thing.
"I think it doesn't play out that way," he said. "The better team is going to win on Sunday, and the better team won (against Brown)."
If history has any say, the future looks good for the Panthers. Smith dominated Brown, winning on screen 29-21.
As for an on-the-field prediction, Smith said: "I think we have a good chance of winning, and they give us the challenge of losing."
Smith said he did not practice for the video game, but he has played before.
Brown also has played before. He won two years ago -- the year the Patriots won the Super Bowl against the favored St. Louis Rams.