"I guess I deserved it -- right?" asked Barry Bremen. "I mean, you take an award from somebody on 'Hill Street Blues,' I guess you should be thrown in jail."

Sunday night, during the 37th annual Emmy Awards, Bremen took the moment -- if not the Emmy statue -- from Betty Thomas, when he accepted the award for best supporting actress in a dramatic series on her behalf, saying she could not be there.

But she, to his surprise, was there and arrived on stage looking appropriately puzzled just as Bremen quickly wrapped up his acceptance speech by thanking ABC sportscaster Dick Schaap.

"Whatever you write, could you please start out with an apology to Betty Thomas?" asked Bremen. "Because I did not want to take the thunder away from anyone."

In fact, Barry Bremen has spent a good deal of time taking the thunder away from anybody he could. Known throughout the sports world as "The Sports Impostor," or simply "The Impostor," he often pretends to be a professional athlete.

He had been planning his Emmy escapade for four months, and was the first such prankster to crack this awards show, and the first on any awards program since a streaker breezed past David Niven on the 1974 Oscar telecast.

To get in, he pretended to be a member of the media ("No one ever asked for my credentials") and paid $300 to get a seat at the ceremony. He wound up with a third-row aisle seat at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium festivities.

"That," said Bremen, "was just too good to be true."

Then, when former "Mission: Impossible" star Peter Graves -- accompanied by the familiar "Mission: Impossible" theme music -- stepped forward to present the award for best supporting actress, well, that cinched Bremen's decision.

" 'Mission Impossible' is how I always see myself. When I do my impersonations for a television program, we always start with a 'Mission: Impossible' concept. It always starts out, 'Good morning, Mr. Bremen. Your mission, should you choose to accept . . .'

"So it was incredible. Graves is my hero. And they played the music and everything. So when they called her name and I didn't see her get up, I figured it was my time.

"What I thought I was doing -- what I hoped I was doing -- was accepting an award for someone who I did not think was there, based on her slow reaction of getting up."

In retrospect -- and in the aftermath of a couple of hours spent in the Pasadena jail -- Bremen added, "I guess I missed my mark. I should have accepted for Jane Curtin." A no-show, Curtin was named best actress in a comedy series.

"I ran over and jumped on his back and was ready to kill him," Emmys producer Alexander Cohen later told United Press International, "but he said 'No, no, no' and pulled out his press clippings. I was absolutely stunned and the cops pulled him away."

Barry Bremen is 38, a former life insurance salesman, current coowner of Birchcrest Marketing (national representative for Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies) and accomplished scene stealer. He lives with his wife and three children in West Bloomfield, Mich. Sunday night and into early this morning, he found himself booked for investigation of attempted grand theft (of the Emmy statue, which he says he had no intention of stealing). He was released after posting a bond on his $1,500 bail.

And just how was jail?

"Well, for starters, I was the only guy dressed in a tuxedo. And then there was the fact that I was conscious -- you know, not drunk."

Sunday night marked Bremen's first arrest for one of his pranks. "It's nothing I plan on doing regularly. Let me put it this way: From now on I'm going to strictly stay in sports. The ballplayers are more receptive to these things than actors."

Bremen's impersonation "career" began in 1979 when he successfully warmed up with the NBA All-Star basketball teams. "I did it on a bet," said the 6-4, 190-pound Bremen, who made his way onto the field at half time in a uniform bearing the name Johnson. "There were 13 Johnsons in the NBA, so it was almost like I fit right in."

Until he tried for his first basket. "I was pretty nervous. At the time, I'd never broken the law before. So my basket didn't even come close. So I told the players, 'Hey, I'm only here on a bet to get a rebound.' They loved it. They were great about it."

The stunt got him on the "Today" program -- as sportsman of the week -- with Dick Schaap. A "Tonight" show appearance followed.

"But what cinched it for me was when 'Bowling for Dollars' called and asked me to be the celebrity bowler. My kids' favorite program, right? Right then, I knew that I had arrived."

But once the excitement of his NBA stunt died down, friends clamored to know, "What's next?"

Next turned out to be the 1979 U.S. Open golf championship. Bremen played nine holes with Wayne Levi and Jerry Pate. Once again, he made it on the "Today" show. And again he was named sportsman of the week. Later, he crashed the 1979 baseball All-Star Game. He warmed up with the American League team in a New York Yankees uniform -- and even made it into the team picture.

"They caught me just prior to the ninth person being introduced for starting lineup. And all I wanted to do was to be out there through the national anthem," he said proudly.

And Bremen is also a "former" Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. That required him to shave his legs and don a custom-made breast prosthesis.

Bremen was sued by the Cowboys for posing as one of its cheerleaders in December 1979. An out-of-court settlement was reached in which Bremen was banned from ever appearing at Texas Stadium -- or anywhere else the Cowboys play -- in a Dallas cheerleader uniform.

He also once sang on stage with Harry Chapin. (After two songs, Chapin wondered who he was.) And then there was the time he addressed a gathering of chiefs of police. "I pretended to be someone else. I wore a polyester suit. And I spoke on the legalization of prostitution. Everyone just figured I was from Los Angeles or Las Vegas."

More recently, Bremen -- who figures his Emmy episode "is about my 20th impersonation" -- played in the U.S. Open this past June, with Fred Couples, Curtis Strange, Jay Haas and Bob Eastwood. Wearing a wig, a mustache and a hidden wire for a TV broadcast that followed (though Bremen, who has been frequently featured on NBC and HBO sports programs, is quick to note that he never accepts any help in getting credentials), he played all 18 holes. "All but the drive on the first hole." He calls that 4 1/2-hour event his favorite impersonation.

"No question about it. It was wonderful. During one point as I was playing, I remembered thinking what a great place this is. I mean, is America a great place -- or what?"

Los Angeles, meanwhile, doesn't get the highest marks in his book. "Los Angeles has been a tough city for me, said Bremen, explaining that he has been caught while trying to crash two sports events, including the 1980 baseball All-Star Game. He also flubbed the 1980 Oscar show.

"I couldn't manage a ticket to that, so I had to sneak in. I wore a tux, so I fit in okay." At the time he didn't know whose Oscar he would accept ("I had no idea"). Then he heard Melvyn Douglas' name called out, as best supporting actor for "Being There," and knew it was time. (Douglas was unable to attend that year because of illness.)

"That would have been perfect -- except I panicked. I really did. I could not get out of my seat."

Since that time Bremen has become more worldly. At the Emmy telecast, he chatted casually with Jack Warden and Robert Stack. He had also written an acceptance speech.

"I was going to say, 'On behalf of fill in the name , I want to thank the Academy. Everyone who was nominated is a winner. The only people who have gained are the networks, because of better entertainment provided by every one of us here. And for that, I thank you and fill in the blank thanks you.' I was also going to thank my family and of course Dick Schaap." (Bremen did mention Schaap in the speech he delivered.)

But of course, his efforts -- as with past L.A. capers -- were foiled.

But that doesn't mean he's giving up impersonations.

"Let's just say I hope the next one's not going to be in L.A."

He also hopes that Thomas doesn't hold a grudge. "I'm glad she got to have her say at the microphone. I feel better for that. I'll definitely be getting in touch with her, to apologize," said Bremen.

He said he'll also be sending her a tin of Famous Amos cookies.

"And Pete Graves, too. Boy, I couldn't forget him."