Joe Biden took the stage at the Democratic National Convention tonight to “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from Philly-set Rocky, and was met with rapturous cheers. A longtime favorite of the Dem rank and file, he gave a fiery, crowd-pleasing speech that was long on praise for the party’s leaders, and longer on patriotic truths about “the unbreakable spirit of the people of America.”

On what likely will be his last star turn on a national stage after a nearly half-century political career, the Vice President played to national pride, not exceptionalism. He fired up the Wells Fargo Center as much or more than any speaker this week. And he likely left some if not many in the hall thinking of the 2016 almost-ran, “What if?”

Introduced by his wife Jill and a video narrated by Law & Order star Mariska Hargitay (watch it above), Biden spent the bulk of his time not focusing on himself or his many accomplishment but building up others. He called Barack Obama one of the finest presidents we have ever had. “This is a man of character,” he said, “and he’s become a brother to Jill and me. And Michelle — I don’t know where you are, but you are incredible.”

Later he turned the Dem nominee, someone he’s known for three decades. “I know Hillary Clinton. Ladies and gentlemen, we all understand what it will mean to our daughter and granddaughters when Hillary Clinton walks into the Oval Office as President of the United States of America: It will change their lives. Our daughters and granddaughters can do anything our sons and grandsons can do.” Standing-O for that one. “There’s only one person  in this race who will be there — who’s always been there for you. And that’s Hillary Clinton’s life story. It’s not just who she is, it’s her life story. She’s always there; she’s always been there. And so has Tim Kaine.”

He also called out his “buddy Chris Dodd,” the former Connecticut senator and current chairman and CEO of the MPAA.

But then Biden pivoted from praise to disdain. “Think about everything you learned as a child … how can there be pleasure in saying, ‘You’re fired’? He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class — give me a break! That’s a bunch of malarkey. … This guy doesn’t have a clue about the middle class.”

If you don’t know who he was talking about, you haven’t been paying attention for the past 13 months.

“Donald Trump, with all his rhetoric, would literally make us less safe,” Biden said. “We can not elect a man who belittles our closest allies while embracing dictators like Vladimir Putin. No, I mean it. A man who sows division in America for his own gain and disorder around the world. A man who confuses bluster with strength. We simply can not let that happen as Americans. Period.”

While pumping up America and Americans, there was one topic Biden surprisingly didn’t touch on. He mentioned the death last year of his eldest son Beau, who succumbed to cancer last year, months after speculation had swirled about his running for governor of Delaware. His death crushed Biden, who had made no secret of his desire to be president and was seen as a likely strong challenger to Clinton this election cycle. When Biden finally made it official that he wasn’t running this time – in a speech delivered in the White House Rose Garden, with President Obama at his side – he said America needs “a moonshot in this country to cure cancer. It’s personal. But I know we can do this.” He vowed then to spend the rest of his VP term pushing for it, and two months later, Obama confirmed the effort during his State of the Union Address. “Tonight I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done,” the president said. “And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.”

But maybe that would have given this 18-minute speech too maudlin a tone. Instead, Biden saved his most passionate oratory for the end.

“Given a fair shot, given a fair chance, Americans has never ever ever ever let their country down. Never!” he said, nearly shouting. “I am more optimistic about our chances today than when I was elected as a 29-year-old kid to the Senate: The 21st century is going to be the American century. Because we lead not only by the example of our power but by the power of example. That is the history of the journey of America. And God willing, Hillary Clinton will write the next chapter in that journey. We are America. Second to none. And we own the finish line. Don’t forget it.”

You almost expected him to throw down the mic.

Beforehand, about 35 minutes before he took the stage, Biden sent out a couple of tweets — his first in 492 days, since a month before Beau’s death: