Jim Rice has just become the highest-paid player in baseball (UPI) or at least "one of the richest" (AP). In any event, he has agreed to stay a Red Soxer at least through 1985.

The slugging American League MVP got a no-trade provision for an unspecified but goodly portion of the new deal's duration, in line with his satisfied reminder after signing yesterday, "I have said right along that I wanted to stay in Boston and continue to play for the Red Sox."

Rice had 1979 and '80 left on his old contract but the Anderson, S.C., bomber would have earned a measly $125,000-$150,000 a year. Rice's attorney, Tony Pennacchia, did all the negotiating and noted that his client will be only 32 when the new contract expires; yes, signed General Manager Haywood Sullivan, "this gives Jim an opportunity to go through this all over again."

Oh, the amount of the seven-year package? UPI reckons $5.4 million but quotes Rice, "I probably could have got more, but I think it's a disadvantage being the highest-paid player, because everybody is on you all the time."

And compare his contract to Pete Rose's? Can't worry about that, Rice said. "Free agency hurts a lot of guys. The first time you do something wrong, the fans are on you."

AFC ascendancy in the NFL continued unabated in '78, the older National Conference placing only seven players on the Associated Press' 25-man All-Pro team picked by the media -- and one of the seven, Willie Buchanon of Green Bay, is itching to jump to greener pasture in the AFC.

The Packer cornerback played out his option while intercepting nine passes and says, though considering a three-year, $350,000 offer to carry on, he doesn't feel comfortable in Green Bay. The town of 90,000 has few blacks and Buchanon says, "It's very difficult. The people in Green Bay aren't bad people. It's just that there is no community of interest between them and me. A man has to have outlets..."

Buchanon grew up in San Diego and remarked how swell it would be to play there again under Charger Coach Don Coryell, his college mentor at San Diego State. An employed George Allen, the free-agent grabber, would have been licking his chops at beating Coryell again, wouldn't he?

Lone Redskin on AP All-Pro: Ken Houston at strong safety.

The Baltimore Metros' debt-payment deadline from the Continental Basketball Association was extended yesterday, to Friday, but their chances look slim.... Slimmer than the hopes of a Baltimore citizens group headed by developer Herbert Siegel to outbid Bill Simon for baseball's Orioles, of whom owner Jerry Hoffberger says, "whoever comes in first (with the $12 million or so) has himself a ball club."

The NFL Players Association's annual Special Olympics campaign is off and running toward the sixth annual NFL awards banquet here March 17. All proceeds of the event go to D.C. and national activities of the endeavor that does so much for the mentally retarded.

NBC-TV left the world hanging Sunday as to whether Bum Phillips ever recovered his ten-gallon hat from the character seen snatching it off his head in the Pittsburgh game's-end confusion. Let it be known from the Oiler coach hisse'f: "I started after him but Eddie and Jerry (Houston trainer Jerry Meins and assistant equipment manager Eddie Temple) were watching out for me. They beat me to him. Eddie grabbed him and Jerry started punching until we got the hat." Take that, Stealers.