Richie Whitt, CBSDFW.COM

INDIANAPOLIS (CBSDFW.COM) – Spotted the Dallas Cowboys bus parked in front of a downtown Indianapolis hotel Wednesday afternoon. Alas, it was empty.

I’m sure at some point lower-level management will spill high-dollar sponsors into the streets and parties of Super Bowl 46 here in the middle of Indiana, but make no mistake: This isn’t your father’s Cowboys’ Super Bowl. You have to squint hard to see the Cowboys’ impact – or presence, for that matter.

Saw Roger Staubach and Ed “Too Tall” Jones strolling through the Media Center at the JW Marriott hotel this week. Newly minted Ring-of-Honor member Charles Haley is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On the field Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium will be four former Cowboys – the Giants’ Chris Canty and Isaiah Stanback and the Patriots’ Nate Jones and Lousaka Polite. And in a year in which everybody goes to the Pro Bowl, only DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff represented Dallas.

Sad. Humiliating. Embarrassing.

Welcome to the longest drought in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

There have been lower points. In their inaugural season in 1960 the Cowboys went winless (0-11-1). In Jerry Jones’ first year as owner in 1989 they were 1-15. And under coach Dave Campo there were three consecutive 5-11 nightmares.

But what we’re experiencing/enduring/suffering right now is unprecedented un-success. It’s the longest gap between Super Bowl victories in the history of America’s Team. The Cowboys last played in a Super Bowl on Jan. 28, 1996 when MVP Larry Brown led them to a 27-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don’t look now, but it’s 2012 – otherwise known as 16 years ago. The other stops in success: 12 years (from 1960 to winning Super Bowl VI in 1972); 6 years (from 1972 to winning Super Bowl XII in 1978); 15 years (from 1978 to winning Super Bowl XXVII in 1993); and now this (1996-present).

In other words, the Cowboys haven’t been champions in 5,845 days. There is a generation of Cowboys’ fans – 16-year-old high-school sophomores, in fact – who have never tasted success.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It ain’t as bad as it seems.

“We’ve got enough talent, we just weren’t consistent enough at the key times of crucial games,” says Ware, who finished second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks. “Our destiny was in our hands all season. That’s the frustrating part about this season. But at the same time it’s the encouraging part about next season.”

The Cowboys remain America’s Team, evidenced by their unapproached success in merchandising and TV ratings. They again led the NFL in average attendance. They have a bright head coach in Jason Garrett, a Top 8 quarterback in Tony Romo and 20-something playmakers in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray and Sean Lee. And while their again-porous defense needs more overhaul than tweaking, the Cowboys will have – granted they cut dead-and-gone cornerback Terence Newman – close to $20 million to spend once free agency begins on March 13.

And, oh by the way, 8-8 was thiiiis close to being more super than mediocre.

Of the eight losses, only the two against the Philadelphia Eagles were non-competitive (and one of those was Week 15 with zero on the line in which backup quarterback Stephen McGee took almost all the snaps). The other six defeats? Week 1 to the New York Jets in which the Cowboys led 24-10 in the fourth quarter. Week 4 to the Detroit Lions in which they led 27-3 at halftime. Week 12 to the Arizona Cardinals in overtime in which they missed a potential game-winning field goal on the final play of regulation. And, of course, three losses to Sunday’s Super Bowl competitors, the New York Giants and New England Patriots.

In Week 5 at New England the Cowboys were tied at 13 late in the fourth when they got too conservative and settled for a field goal after a first-and-goal possession. They lost, 20-16, when Tom Brady drove the Patriots 80 yards, climaxing with a touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez with :22 remaining. Against the Giants in Week 13 the Cowboys led 34-22 with 5:41 remaining at Cowboys Stadium. They lost 37-34 after a game-clinching Romo pass slipped off Austin’s fingertips and when a game-tying field goal was blocked on the game’s final play. And in Week 16’s NFC East Championship Game in New York the Cowboys fell behind 21-0 before rallying within seven points. Another stop, with momentum, and you felt as if the Cowboys would tie the game. But faced with a third-and-7 at his own 23, Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning – under duress – threw the ball up for grabs, and was rewarded when Victor Cruz outfought Cowboys’ defensive backs Orlando Scandrick and Gerald Sensabaugh. The ensuing field goal pushed the lead to 10, gutted the Cowboys’ fight and effectively ended another unsuccessful season.

“I’ll watch Sunday, to kind of take out my grievances,” Ware says of Super Bowl 46. “It’ll motivate me to play even harder next season to watch those teams and to know that we can play with them, that we can beat them. We were right there. We’re close.”

With Canty, Stanback, Polite and Jones, the Cowboys will be “represented” on the Super Bowl field for the 16th consecutive year. But also for a record 16th consecutive year, the Dallas Cowboys won’t win the Super Bowl.

And these days, the Cowboys’ bus barely makes a buzz.