The NFL Network series ''Timeline'' is examining how pro football helped the American hostages in Iran nearly 36 years ago.

The episode, ''America's Game and the Iran Hostage Crisis,'' was created by George Clooney's Bluesmoke Productions and directed by actor Tate Donovan, who was in the Academy Award-winning film ''Argo.'' It depicts how some smuggled-in audio tapes of Washington Redskins games and a Super Bowl helped keep the hostages connected to America during their captivity.

On Jan. 20, 1980, as the Steelers and Rams took the field at the Rose Bowl for the Super Bowl, an enterprising reporter made a long-distance telephone call from a Tehran hotel to a radio station engineer in Los Angeles. Over the phone, they made a crude audio-cassette recording of the game, which he planned to smuggle into the Tehran embassy for the hostages to hear.

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Three weeks after Pittsburgh's 31-19 win, that cassette player was taken to the embassy by newsman Alex Paen, who was a go-between among the hostages, the Iraqis, and the outside world. That recording, along with copies of The Sporting News - which were not censored and were allowed into the embassy - and the Redskins' tapes became a way for the captives to be connected to America.

The film ultimately builds to the next Super Bowl in New Orleans, which celebrated the hostages' release, symbolized by the giant yellow ribbon on the Superdome.

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WATCHING HURTS MORE THAN KNEE: Titans rookie Marcus Mariota is holding out hope he can play in Tennessee's season finale. A sprained right knee is sidelining him for Sunday's home game with Houston.

This will be the third game the No. 2 overall draft pick out of Oregon and Heisman Trophy winner has missed after spraining his left knee in October.

''If I feel great, I look forward to playing in the last game,'' Mariota said. ''We'll take this week and get healthy as much as I can, and see what it feels like on Monday, and go through the evaluation process. And if I feel ready to go and I can do it, I will definitely be out there on the field.''

Mariota's knee will be re-evaluated next week to decide if he's healthy enough to play Jan. 3 at Indianapolis. Interim coach Mike Mularkey says Mariota is a fast healer who is rehabilitating as much as possible this week.

''The rehab, he's literally living in there,'' Mularkey said.

Mariota has set franchise rookie records with 230 completions in 370 attempts for 2,818 yards with 19 touchdowns. That puts him one TD shy of being the 11th quarterback in NFL history to throw for 20 TDs as a rookie.

''The frustration of not being able to be out there with the guys bothers me more than what is going on with my knee,'' he said. ''I just want to be out there with them, and be able to compete with those guys. So I would say that is the most frustrating part.''

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SECRET SANTA: Steelers' running back DeAngelo Williams recently went undercover to surprise unsuspecting holiday shoppers.

Disguised as a DICK'S Sporting Goods employee, Williams assisted customers in a Pittsburgh area store after they'd ordered through the ''Buy Online, Pick-Up In-Store'' service.

At one point, Williams was asked by his ''bosses'' to check if a customer's beard was real. Another time, he tested a customer to see how long he could swing a Terrible Towel. He also asked a kayak purchaser if he wanted to take it out for a test drive, and when the customer agreed and tied himself in, Williams ''rocked the boat.''

Signed by Pittsburgh as a backup to 2014 All-Pro Le'Veon Bell, Williams has been forced into a starting role because of Bell's two-game suspension and then a season-ending knee injury. The 10-year veteran has performed well with 799 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, plus 301 yards on 32 receptions.

''Thankfully, I'm better at carrying a football,'' Williams said, ''than working at DICK'S.

''I really appreciate how Steeler Nation has welcomed me with open arms and I've enjoyed interacting with them. What made me feel great was seeing how many people on social media told me that it helped make their day by providing some laughs. I'm just glad DICK'S gave me the opportunity to help bring people some holiday cheer.''

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VON'S UNDIES: Locker rooms at this time of year can look like any other office gift exchange, only the presents are usually more along the lines of big-screen TVs and bottles of Patron rather than knick-knacks or stocking stuffers.

Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller, however, gave everyone in Denver's locker room underwear.

''These are kind of the new age of boxers, very comfortable,'' said linebacker Shane Ray, holding up his new Ethika skivvies.

Ray, whose locker is next to Miller's, handed out bottles of Luc Belaire Rare Rose champagne to his fellow defenders.

Underwear isn't usually something that's at the top of peoples' wish lists. But running back C.J. Anderson was happy to find a pair in his locker even though he didn't know who gave them to him.

''It didn't say like `Von to C.J.,''' Anderson said with a chuckle.

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BEASLEY'S SURPRISE: Vic Beasley was selected with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft to boost the Falcons' pass rush, a weak spot for several years. The rookie has only three sacks, and this week came news which may help explain the lack of production: Beasley has been playing with a torn labrum in his shoulder all season after suffering the injury in the offseason.

It was a surprise because the issue never surfaced on the weekly injury report. Coach Dan Quinn explained Beasley never missed any practice time and so he didn't have to be included on the report.

''He's been not limited in any way with the shoulder,'' Quinn said.

Beasley has started every game at defensive end and has 23 tackles. He shares the team lead in sacks with Adrian Clayborn.

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AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Teresa M. Walker and Arnie Stapleton, and Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed to this notebook.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL