FLASH: Local bad boy returns to D.C. over weekend, feels good again.

Once he was the scrawny kid from Potomac who snitched the crucifix over mother superior's bed at St. John's, stole desserts from the nuns, got thrown out of Charlotte Hall as a theif and, to round it out, flunked pretty much everything. This weekend, though, Sylvester Stallone, late of cinematic boxing but now of cinematic soccer, stayed in a fancy suite at the Four Seasons Hotel where gladiolas recline in crystal bowls.

Gone is his ape look. And the cantaloupe-sized biceps, and the neck that was once as big as a ham roast. The star of "Rocky," "Rocky II" and not yet, but eventually, "Rocky III," has been transformed into an underfed soccer player in a Hungarian prison during World War II.It's for his latest move, "Escape to Victory," due out in June.

"I couldn't very well go to a prisoner-of-war camp, where they feed you shoelaces and fish heads, with 18-inch arms and 19-inch neck and a 50-inch chest," says Stallone, 34, enveloped by a pink and black Chinese-print sofa that matches him nicely: pink oxfored cloth shirt, unbottoned to mid-chest (lots of hair), tight Levi's, creamy barown boots ("Kinda like a cross between English riding boots and pole vaulting sneakers," he offers), and a gold belt buckle that says "Rocky."

"We gave them [the buckles] to everybody on the set," he explains, hitching thumbs into his belt, stomach jutting cow rustler-style. "Slipped them underneath their sandwiches on the last day." This is a big fib. He means it as another of the not-so-bad lines he pops a lot, and fast.

Stallone returned to the scene of his juvenile crimes to see yesterday's Soccer Bowl '80 and promote his new movie. Directed by John Huston, it was shot for 16 weeks outside Budapest; Stallone got a crash course in the game from, among others, Pele.

"I'd never even touched a soccer ball," he says. "Never held one, never fondled a soccer ball, never spent any quiet and tender moments with a soccer ball." His hands caress an imiginary soccer ball sitting with him on the sofa as his pouty lips part just a bit in a smile and his now-famous droopy lids do, in fact, droop.

They're still his trademark, four years after the release of the wildly successful "Rocky." Then The Village Voice called him "as big as Brando, maybe," and New York magazine annointed him with: " . . . animal presence, the voice of an aging Mafioso, Al Pacino eyes, Victor Mature biceps, and Rock Hudson's mouth."

But after that, life for Stallone got, as he puts it, "rude." His movies -- "Rocky II," "Paradise Alley" and "F.I.S.T." -- were planned by increasingly vitriolic critics. He was at times linked with other women, and his marriage broke up. When he talks about it, the wisecracks vaporize.

"Now I see with clear vision that I brought all that on myself," he says. "In lashing out at the press and at past memories, it recoiled. It came back at me. Number One Law of Cosmic Nature, and that is: You attract what you are. Period. Because I got what I gave out . . .

"And once I decided to say, hey, you know, let it flow, just go downstream and stop trying to hang on to all these rocks, clinging to something and trying to go upsteam and fight back. Just take what success you have -- and relax. Don't sit there and try to cram your philosophies down someone else's throat." d

Now he's back with his wife, Sasha. They live in Hollywood, a continent and a whole philosophy away from the home in Potomac, Md., that his dad bought with money from his J. Frank beauty salons in Silver Spring. Anyway, Stallone and his wife like Hollywood okay. But just okay.

"I think eventually I'm going to move maybe a little farther out," he says.

"See, Hollywood is basically a nice place. The weather's wonderful.But it's a factory. The work itself is indigenous to the survival of that community and it's not a pleasure town at all. I like it alot, but at the same time, there's a lot of tension in the air, and a great deal of sadness."

Stallone's sadness in the last four years came from his own Cinderella aftermath. "See," he says, "no one prepares you for success. You're prepared for failure since the day you're born.You know what it's like not to get the bike you want, or you lose a fight in school, or you lose your girlfriend, or the homecoming game. So you learn to adapt to failure . . .

"But there is no course in college, high school, junior high school, grade school or kindergarten that says: 'This Is How You Deal With Success.' Like, 'When you are successful, you will say this to the press, and do this with your children. All of a sudden you're thrown into a world of raging egos, tremendous money and reponsibility for every word you say. You go from underdog to overdog, and as we know, once you stick your head above the crowd, people sometimes like to cut it off."

Growing up in Potomac, Stallone had plenty of practice in being the underdog. He was lonely, with a father who went around with hundred-dollar bills in his pockets. Stallone would steal them, his mother once remembered, to try to buy friends. But everybody made fun of him because he was born with the half-paralyzed face that's now considered hopelessly seductive.

They made a mask from it for the movie, to put on somebody who could really play soccer.

"They spent like 25 thousand dollars on it, and I sez, 'This is not gonna work,'" says Stallone. "First of all, the mask looked like I'd been sleeping on a garbage truck. The whole face was pushed to the left side, and it looked worse than after 15 rounds of 'Rocky'. So I said, "Take the make, give it to the makeup man, and next Halloween it'll be a hit.' I mean it realy looked like 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.'"

As it turned out, he wound up doing all the soccer scenes -- 35 pounds lighter than he was in "Rocky." "I wrapped myself in barbed wire every night and kept myself away from the icebox," he explains, then says it was a high-protein, low-carboyhdrate diet he claims dulled his brain.

How he knew it did: "I mean, I was laughing at Henny Youngman jokes after a while."

He wasn't laughing much during the filming. "It's one thing to be on location in the Riviera," he says, "but to be in a prisoner-of-war camp in a communist country during the off-season, which is always . . . there was nothin' to do. Mumbletypeg. Backgammon. Tick-tack-toe. Push-ups. After a while, you try to learn the laanguage. Noya, noya, hoya, noya . . aAfter a while, you try to learn the language. Noya, noya, hoya, noya . . . "

Just what you'd say if you were caught stealing desserts from a nun.