They called him Walter Mitty, or football's Rocky, and Philadelphia fans cheered his special-team efforts almost as loudly as any Eagle touchdown. He'd gone to a college (St. Joseph's) where they don't have a football team, then gave up Olympic decathlon aspirants and schoolteaching to give his all to becoming a football big-leaguer.

At age 30, after leading the club in preseason pass receiving, Vince Papale made the NFL in 1976 as a suicide-squadder. A devastating tackler on kick returns, in 1977 he captained the Eagle special teams. But on Aug. 23, 1978, Coach Dick Vermeil released him, gently saying: "I don't think you ever replace a person like Vince Papale. But . . ."

Now the folk hero - a Philly sportscaster and much sought after as a speaker at functions - is an Eagle again.

Papale was rehired yesterday to fill the spot vacated by Wally Henry, the little man who was on his way to becoming one of the better NFL return threats the other side of Tony Green, only to go out with a broken leg when clipped Sunday in New Orleans. John Sciarra will replace Henry on returns, and self-styled "catastrophe receiver" Papale? "I'm real excited . . . I don't expect it to hurt my future in television.