He had grown so accustomed to it. Anywhere he went, any time his program entered the conversation, Paul Assaiante was left trying to explain how it feels to always win.
Even Bill Belichick, looking at a stack of games in which his Patriots were favorites, invited Assaiante to Foxborough a month ago to speak to his NFL team on the psychology of dealing with being the hunted and not the hunter.
And now, here was the Trinity squash coach sitting inside Ferris Athletic Center on Thursday afternoon, suddenly doing something he had not done in nearly 14 years. Assaiante was trying to describe how it felt for the longest winning streak in the history of intercollegiate varsity athletics -- 252 matches -- to be over. He was left trying to explain how his team would rebound from its first defeat since Feb. 22, 1998.
"Bill and I talked a lot about the psychology of this," Assaiante said. "When there is failure, to be crude, there is this mess. It's like vomit. That's all the athletes can smell. Yet if you look in the middle of it, there's a little disc and if you can pull that disc out, there's a lesson in there. You want them to move forward with the lesson, but flush the rest of that stuff down the toilet."
"But they don't. They bring it along with them. So we really need today to regroup."
Remember Feb. 22, 1998? No?
That was the day the Nagano Winter Olympics ended. That was the day Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," the love song from "Titanic," hit No. 1 on the pop charts. That was less than a month after another Broncos quarterback -- one named John Elway -- won his first Super Bowl.
Yep, that's a long time ago, and a 252-match streak was enormous baggage for his current team to carry on its shoulders. So when John Roberts defeated Johan Detter 3-2 to give Yale a 5-4 victory over Trinity in New Haven, the mighty weight of that baggage crashed down on the Bantams.
"You saw a 13-year celebration occur on that court, and hats off to Yale," Assaiante said. "They earned it. I also worry for my boys. They're world-class athletes, but they're young kids. I want to make sure we're helping frame for them what just happened."
That's why he gathered them in the minutes after the defeat.
"You lost a dual match," Assaiante told his players. "That's what just happened. Character is exposed in failure. You have the chance to do something no Trinity team has ever done, and that's come back from defeat and do something special. Walk out of here, congratulate them and remember this."
That's also why Assaiante did not make his players available Thursday for interviews.
"They are so raw today," he said. "They are so tender. We're giving lots of one-on-ones, little pep talks, because Harvard is coming in here on Saturday and Harvard is a lot better than Yale."
Harvard beat Yale 5-4 on Nov. 13 in the Ivy League scrimmages. Yet Yale also is No. 2 in the Dunlop rankings, while Harvard is No. 5. Could you imagine Trinity with a two-match losing streak?
"What happens is you lose confidence instantly," Assaiante said. "Boys who are really good squash players are coming in today and saying, 'I don't know what my game is anymore.' So much of it is all in the head."
Yes, Yale was helped by playing at home. The crowd obviously gave the Bulldogs an emotional lift. Assaiante said each squash court plays much differently.
"Yale's courts are bouncier than ours," he said. "It's like going from clay to hard court. The ball stays up. Our guys were getting frustrated. Shots where they'd ordinarily see an advantage, they weren't seeing one."
"Just like controlling the line of scrimmage in football, Yale controlled the heart of the court by hitting better length and width. We were always in fetching mode. You wear down. Your shots become less accurate."
Detter had been one of the two Bantams who erased Yale's 4-3 lead last year in Boston as Trinity won its 13th consecutive national championship.
"I didn't think Johan Detter would ever wear down," Assaiante said. "All the credit to John Roberts. He played a brilliant match."
Gustav Detter, Johan's older brother, couldn't make the match Wednesday night. An analyst, he was working in the offices of Spring Hill Capital Partners in Manhattan.
"I was getting text messages, pretty much every point," Gustav said. "I was following it intensely."
Gustav, of course, is one of the most honored athletes in Trinity history. A four-time All-American, he graduated in 2009 with a degree in economics and a minor in Chinese with a 3.93 GPA. The Gustav legend was secured on the night of Feb. 1, 2006, in Princeton. Only a freshman, he was down 2-0 in games and 8-7, down to the final point, in the third. The Trinity winning streak was about to end at 134.
And Gustav wasn't playing just anybody.
"He was playing the greatest player in college history, Yasser El Halaby," Assaiante said. "Gustav was a freshman who didn't know any better."
In one of the great moments in college squash history, Gustav Detter won the next three points to win Game 3 and beat El Halaby in the final two games to give Trinity a dramatic 5-4 victory.
"That was," Assaiante said, "the defining moment of the streak."
And now here was Gustav calling Johan on his cell late Wednesday night to console his little brother. Johan was on the bus ride back from New Haven to Hartford.
As a squash player, Gustav said he has never seen his little brother play with more skill. Yet after studying in Australia for a semester, Assaiante said, Johan was not in the top-flight condition he was at this time last year.
"It was tough," said Gustav, who's living in Manhattan with former Trinity teammate Baset Chaudhry. "It's a lot of pressure for these college kids. Unfortunately, Johan had to deal with that. I think he's handling it well. Something I learned from Coach is you will see if a player has character after you lose. Those guys, including my little brother, all have it."
"Of course, we're disappointed. But all streaks come to an end. Yale played great. All credit to them. We're all looking forward to the nationals."
But first Harvard on Saturday, and Gustav will be there.
If the streak was going to end, Assaiante said, his dream was that it wouldn't be because Trinity was backsliding. Yes, this year's Bantams are young, but Assaiante said that Yale "was a great team (Wednesday) night: fit, strong, with a great international presence."
"There were some years we had no competition," Assaiante said. "Where we've made our biggest impact is helping the game of college squash. The bar is so high now. There are six teams that can win the national championships this year."
On Thursday, Paul Assaiante went about the job of making sure his team becomes the first at Trinity to win the national title after a loss. He said that Johan Detter was "shook," but, like Gustav, the coach is sure that his character, his team's character, will re-emerge.