Illini football freshman walk-on is the 'Man'

Almost his whole life, Peter Bailey Berg hasn’t used his formal name. It just wasn’t cool enough.

No, he’s not the director of Friday Night Lights and Lone Survivor. He’s just Man.

A redshirt freshman walk-on quarterback for the Illinois football team, Man Berg hasn’t gone by his birth name of Peter since Pop Warner football in second grade, where he was ‘Berg.’ The nickname Man originated at birth and he’s stuck to some variation of the moniker ever since.

When he was born, his mom dubbed him ‘Little Man.’ Man had a “grimace or a growl,” according to his father, Kevin, on his face and thus the nickname was born.

“He looked like an old man,” Kevin said. “The minute he was born, everyone in the delivery room, all the doctors saw this guy and said, ‘Jesus, he looks like an old man.’”

For five years, he was called Manny, but that wasn’t quite right either.

“I hated it and wanted to be called Man,” he said. ‘The school called and said they knew my name was Peter, and they asked if I wanted to go by Man or Peter and I said Man. I just thought it was cooler. So I was ‘Man’ like my whole life through school and everything.”

Along with the nickname comes general confusion during introductions and now well worn-out jokes about Man.  

“It’s either ‘What did you say?’ They always think I said Matt or Max, and then I said, no it’s Man,” Berg said. “Every day it’s something like, ‘What’s your sister’s name? Woman?’ Pretty much every day that I meet someone new, that’s what they say. So you just learn to deal with it.”

When looking at universities, Berg said he fell in love with the campus and coaches at Illinois and decided to enroll as a walk-on after a high school ACL injury derailed his chances at a scholarship.

 “I always felt like when I would go to college, it would change back to Peter — I wouldn’t tell everyone I was Man,” Berg said. “But I just couldn’t really take it and said, ‘No my name is Man.’’

In his first season in Champaign, Berg never saw the field but earned notoriety by making Sporting News’ 2013 All-Name All-American team. There was even a hashtag, #manberg, movement on Twitter from Illinois blogger

@ALionEye, which spread throughout the team and fans alike, producing yet another evolution of the name within the team.

“I thought it was funny. My dad emailed me a link and said, ‘Look what they’re doing to you on the Internet.’ He was laughing about it, too,” Berg said. “I checked them out and there was a ton of them like #manberg, I got a kick out of it. The guys on the team got a kick out of it too and that sparked them calling me ‘Manberg,’ like it’s one word instead of just Man.”

This spring, Berg works with the tight ends and running backs and will be running with the scout team during the fall. Though actual playing time isn’t a likely scenario in his career, Berg is still working each practice, trying to earn one of the 85 scholarships allotted to the team.

“I’m competing just as everyone else is,” Berg said. “I’m not getting the reps with the 1’s or 2’s, obviously, but each practice I’m doing a bunch of stuff to get better and I’m always looking for a scholarship, trying to get a scholarship and trying to earn the right to play on the field.”

Kevin said Man is trying to prove to himself that he can play at a Division I level, despite Kevin’s warnings of too much pressure that can come with playing quarterback or pitcher.

“He made himself into a quarterback. He wants that ball,” Kevin said. “He wants to be that guy leading that team.”

The family even thought of legally switching his name to Man Berg and has all of the legal documents to do so. Other than his driver’s license, which is a legal document, all documents are under the name Man Berg — including his high school diploma. They still plan to change the name at some point, it just hasn’t happened yet.

“Before he left here, we were going to do it but it’s just one of those things you keep running out of time for,” Kevin said. “Unfortunately, it’s not one of those things you can just do.”

Going back to his preschool days, there’s no mention of his actual name. Kevin said people think that Man is his real name because that’s all he’s ever been introduced as.

“There was no chance of it not catching on,” Kevin said. “That’s all he ever was.”

So it’s Man. Or ManBerg. Or #manberg. But never Peter.

Stephen can be reached at sbourbo2@dailyillini.com and @steve_bourbon.