Tom Baldwin's retirement party drew nearly 400 well-wishers Thursday. (File Photo / July 5, 2010)

Many football coaches use the motto: "It's not how you start, but how you finish."

The statement applied to Tom Baldwin during his retirement party Thursday night at the Neighborhood Community Center in Costa Mesa.

The former Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and Santa Ana Valley high school coach ended an emotional speech with poignant words.

Several of the nearly 400 people in the room played for Baldwin. He found it fitting to end by simulating a pregame speech.

First, he set the mood, telling everyone that on this night, his team would be playing against Mater Dei. That, of course, got everyone's attention.

Then Baldwin said (and I'm paraphrasing), "I want you to go out there and be crazy. Get crazy, because I've heard it takes seven people to take down a crazy person. If we are all crazy on the field, it will take 77 people to take us down. They won't have enough to take us down. OK, let's go!"

As Baldwin ended his speech, he pumped his fist into the air amid a standing ovation. Even I was ready to strap on a helmet and go four quarters with the best of them.

He certainly instilled excitement in his former players.

The night was about honoring Baldwin, but for the football coach it was also a celebration of the countless relationships he developed throughout the past 49 years of teaching and coaching.

They all stood up and cheered after Baldwin spoke.

During his speech, Baldwin, a Christian who remains highly active at his church, quoted a passage from the bible. I Corinthians 13 is usually used for weddings, but he felt the love chapter also applied to his life and his career.

He did most of his work with love and care. He opened the doors of his home to some players and students, adopting them as his own. He taught them life lessons. But he also learned too, as he became a better teacher and coach through working with them.

"They don't care that you know until they know that you care," Baldwin said of working with them.

Many of the people at the party spoke about how Baldwin builds up, rather than tears down. He uses positive reinforcement.

He also uses it in his own life. He is dealing with a rare intestinal disease, but he remains upbeat. The ailment, mesenteric panniculitis, eventually prevented the 78-year-old from continuing to teach at Costa Mesa, where he has worked for 26 years. But he plans to still coach golf for the Mustangs.

After reuniting with several of his former players, he set up golf dates with many of them in the days to come.

He had been looking forward to his retirement party with great anticipation to catch up with his former players and students, as well as friends in the community.

Everyone was there to celebrate.

Usually on nights like Thursday, the cliché phrase is that there was not a dry eye in the room. On the contrary, there were smiles all around. It was such a happy place.

"It was beyond my expectations," Baldwin said Monday. "My family had told me all along how many people were coming, but I just didn't think it would be that many people … I was pretty amazed. It was a pretty exciting day."