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ESPN’s Ian Darke calls the “beautiful game” of dating

What would it be like if one of the most recognizable soccer commentators in the English-speaking world called your next, awkward first date, dramatically detailing each misstep?

ESPN explores this idea in a new promotional video (seen above) entitled “Ian’s Getting Ready” featuring Ian Darke, lead play-by-play commentator for ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In the sketch, Darke lends his signature voice to describe a young couple’s first dinner date.

As soccer fans can attest, Darke’s call of Landon Donovan’s remarkable goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup solidified his place within U.S. sports folklore. And Darke’s worldwide following no doubt has helped translate into the nearly 160,000 views the video has had since its April 1 posting on ESPN’s YouTube page. The video was developed by ESPN’s marketing team in collaboration with creative agency The Vault and directed by Tim Kendall.

Darke, who is in Glendale, Ariz., to commentate on the USA-Mexico friendly match tonight (11:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN), spoke to Front Row about the making of the video.

What did you think when you were first approached with this idea?
I thought it was a bit of fun. It would be something a little different and refreshing to do. I wasn’t quite sure whether it would work as a marketing idea, but it all sounded like something that would be good fun – to go to Brooklyn’s 12th Street Bar & Grill and shoot it. As is my wont, I was prepared to give it a spin.

What life event would you want Ian Darke to offer commentary on for you? Use the hashtag #IanDarkeMyLife to respond and we’ll share the best ones with @IanDarke.

Have you acted before this?
I’ve never done any acting at all. I’ve been asked to be in a couple of amateur dramatic scenes at school and I always said no because I was absolutely certain I would never remember the lines. To be honest, that’s probably why I ended up doing commentary, which is basically a 90-minute ad lib.

How much did you have to improvise?
It was quite carefully scripted as it had to be. But the director said to me, “Feel free to tweak it anyway you want just to fit with your general commentary style.” We made some minor changes. Not too many.

What was one minor change you made to the script?
When I saw [the potential boyfriend] was going to be so much shorter than [the potential girlfriend], I said I’d probably say something like “he might need a stepladder here.” The director said, “use that!” Tim [Kendall] was a great guy, top-notch director. Any credit that goes for how it turned out goes to him. He conjured up the performance.

You’ve been happily married for a while to your wife Liz. Did commentating on someone’s first date bring back any memories?
No, it was too long ago. I actually thought the actor who was playing the part of the hapless guy on his date did better than I remember myself doing all those years ago.

If there was another everyday life moment you could commentate on for fans, what would it be?
Well, I’m available for birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. [Note: He’s joking, folks.]

Mac Nwulu contributed to this post

Editor’s note: The video below is an excerpt from the Tuesday edition of ESPN2’s ESPNFC. Host Dan Thomas took a break from soccer news and analysis to ask Darke for insight on Darke’s acting gig, and Darke provides “inside scoop” on what’s happened to the couple since the first date.

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