The idea of deflating balls before games isn't limited to football. It's happened in basketball too, at least according to Phil Jackson. The legendary coach and current Knicks president admitted long ago that the championship Knicks teams of the 1970s used to pull the trick to maximize their lack of size and passing.
"To help ensure that, we'd try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like 'inflate to 7 to 9 pounds.' We'd all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball.
"It also helped our offense because we were a team that liked to pass the ball without dribbling it, so it didn't matter how much air was in the ball. It also kept other teams from running on us because when they'd dribble the ball, it wouldn't come up so fast."
An example of this practice can be found in Marv Albert's autobiography, I'd Love To But I Have A Game:
"I honestly believe [Bill] Bradley wanted to play pro ball from the beginning -- he loved basketball ... But during a time-out that night, I saw him sneak the ball over to the bench and deflate it just for a second with his pin. ... Along with reserve Phil Jackson, they made up the liberal coalition on the roster."
Those Knicks teams actually had a lot in common with the current Patriots. Both were lauded as team-first clubs that played the right way in an era where many of their peers didn't. Both were coached by men known as geniuses at the time (Red Holtzman and Bill Belichick, though the former was more talkative than the latter). Both were fronted by stars whose celebrity transcended the game (Tom Brady and Walt Frazier), but both succeeded because of their depth and balance.
But they're hardly the only basketball team in history to fiddle with the air pressure in basketballs. It's because of their tactics that Jackson used to carry an air-pressure gauge with him when he coached the Bulls, according to Sam Smith's landmark book The Jordan Rules. It wasn't uncommon for Jackson to discover interesting things:
"Like that night in Miami in the 1989-90 season. Jackson always tests the poundage in the game balls before the game. The balls that night in Miami were well below the required 7.5 to 8.5 pounds. An innocent oversight? Unlikely. With a softer ball players can't dribble as fast and the game slows. It was what a less talented team like Miami wanted against a running team like the Bulls. Jackson got the balls pumped up and the Heat were deflated.
It works the way other, too; Jackson has caught the Lakers trying to sneak balls with 15 to 17 pounds of air into the game. Why? Magic Johnson likes a high dribble, and a livelier ball results in long rebounds that key the kind of fast break the Lakers love to use, especially at home."
Jackson also discovered that the Portland Trail Blazers, the powerhouse team led by Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, used to deflate basketballs so they'd stay on the rim longer on rebounds, which aided their offensive rebounding. So it goes both ways.
And NBA gambling guru Haralabos Voulgaris suggested that teams deflated balls as recently as 15 years ago:
Jazz rarely took 3pointers or long shots, preferred banging inside, often used over inflated ball vs jumpshooting teams.— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) January 28, 2015
Better be careful, NBA teams. We're now watching you.